Today I want to take a moment to pause any thoughts on how social media is changing us or how we can better use social media for redemptive purposes to reflect just a little bit on writing.
In 2017, I published a book called Ministering to Millennials with a tiny publishing house. I am not proud of the book, if I’m going to be honest, and it has nothing to do with the great folks who published it.
Writing that book was excruciating. I’m not 100% sure why, but I think the main reason it was so difficult was because I had been writing a thrice-weekly blog for about three years on how churches could understand, reach, and equip millennials. I think I was already getting burnt out on the subject matter when I was only beginning to write the book. It was the most difficult writing project I ever had, and I say this having written 60 pages on the Koine Greek Granville-Sharp rule at play in Ephesians 4:11 when I was a junior in college.
I knew that when I finished the millennials book I would be done writing about that particular subject forever. But I was unprepared for the stonewall writers’ block that I would experience as soon as I turned in the manuscript.
From the end of writing that book in 2017 until the beginning of 2020, I didn’t know what to write. I could point you to about a dozen half-written drafts of blog posts on my computer that never saw the light of the internet. Now, I was writing offline—journaling, writing sermons for student ministry, etc.—but every single time I sat down to write something on the internet, which I have done regularly since I was in the eighth grade, I kept hitting a wall.
The thought that kept running through my head was this, “What does anyone care what you think about anything?” Or, more pointedly, “No one cares what you think about anything. Stop wasting your time.” Every time I would get one or two hundred words into writing something, one of these thoughts would cross my mind and paralyze my fingers.
What made these thoughts hurt so much was that they were true, at least in one sense. In reality, none of us long to hear the thoughts of many other people. Almost no one we appreciate and learn from is indispensable to us. All of us could live without our favorite internet writers. Few internet writers have audiences who are itching to read the next blog post, tweet, or other kind of communication. So the feeling I had, that no one cared what I have to say, was true. And because it was true, I couldn’t force myself to write.
But this is the craziest part:
I didn’t realize I was meant to write until I couldn’t anymore.
This doesn’t make any sense on the surface. If I couldn’t figure out what to write, it seems as though that would make the case for me not being a writer, right?
My friend and mentor Trevin Wax has often said to me that he knows he is meant to write because when he doesn’t, he feels a sort of pain and discomfort that can only be relieved by writing.
Wanting to write and being unable to find my voice was more excruciating than writing the millennial book, and it was then I realized, “I am supposed to write.”
If I would have faced the writer’s block and not been hurt by it, saying, “OK, well, I guess I just don’t have anything more to say,” then I would have proven that I am not really a writer.
But it was when I felt this chaotic potential energy bouncing around inside my heart and my head with no way out that I realized, “If I don’t start writing I feel like I will explode.”
I didn’t realize I was meant to write until I couldn’t anymore.
And now, I can’t stop.
A Struggle With Stewardship
A significant struggle I faced when I was up against the writers’ block wall, or whatever it was for those couple of years, is that I felt like I wasn’t faithfully stewarding the gifts and abilities God has given me.
Both through my own evaluation of my writing and the affirmation of others, I do think God has given me the gift of writing well and clearly communicating through the written word. This is a gift I remember having early in life, but that was undoubtedly nurtured by some of my earliest educators.
In God’s providence I grew up down the street from and attended a “communications magnet” elementary school. At that school I wrote a “book” every year, started Spanish in first grade, and edited a school newsletter toward the end of my time there. In middle school, I started blogging online—back in the days of Livejournal. I did it mainly to try to impress girls, even though it was super cringey. It kinda worked though—I’m married to one of my earliest readers.
Then, in high school, I spent my freshman and sophomore English classes with John Houser, the best teacher I’ve ever had, and both of those school years we had to turn in an essay a week for the duration of the class. I didn’t realize how unique that was until I got to college and learned people hadn’t written many papers before then. Obviously I continued to grow into this gifting more in college as my biblical literature degree was almost entirely made up of writing exegetical research papers, book reviews, and the like.
All of this is to say that when I was wracked with a pent-up energy to write something for a couple of years and no clear way to expend that energy, I felt like I was being a poor steward. I felt like I was squandering what I had been given. It wasn’t just a disappointed feeling of discontent—it was a feeling of disobedience.
Last spring, around when my daughter was born and shortly after the pandemic began, the Lord answered my prayer in the most gracious of ways. I was so tired of banging my head against the writers’ block wall, and I was regularly praying that he would break it down for me. “Just, please, show me how you have gifted me so that I can use my ability to write to help other people,” I would say, begging the Lord to provide some sort of clarity on what to do.
It was around this time last year that God in his grace really just opened up the floodgates. He provided direction on how I could use the gift and interest in writing that he gave me to help other people. The raging potential energy that was desperately hunting for a hole on the writers’ block wall found a crack and exploded through it.
The Challenge I Face Now
Let me be clear: I don’t think I am a great writer—part of this is because I know of so many writers who are so much better than me. (For instance, I have no idea if I punctuated the above sentence correctly.) But, I do think I am an efficient, productive writer. I can write a thousand words in a half an hour no problem. Everything you’ve read in this post so far to this point has taken me roughly 30-40 minutes. My mind is sharp, for now, and my fingers are relatively fast, but I misplace modifiers and use boring verbs when I should be using vibrant verbs. I have plenty of room to grow as a writer, but I can crank out writing faster than most.
The biggest challenge I face at present is trying to get as much as I can out of my head and onto virtual paper while also improving the form and style of my writing. I want to grow and improve as a writer, but I also don’t want a common newsletter like this to take three hours as I craft every sentence to be as “good” as possible. I value being an informal writer, but I want to avoid being a sloppy writer. This can be a difficult line to walk.
But the other challenge I face, other than improving as a writer, is one that is a bit more abstract and a battle of my mind.
Intimidated by Vulnerability
Earlier this week our community group was talking about Andy Crouch’s accountability-and-vulnerability chart from his book Strong and Weak. I confessed to them that I am pretty uncomfortable with vulnerability in a variety of social settings. I don’t know of any past trauma or anything that would make me wary of opening up to people, but I am wary of opening up to people. I’m a pretty private person. I don’t make friends easily. I tend to keep to myself and am, generally, introverted and quiet.
This hasn’t always been the case, but it certainly has been for most of my adult life. I think a significant reason I’m quieter and more reserved than most is because I was such an outspoken fool for most of my adolescent years that, once I gained a bit of wisdom in college and the years following, I learn that wisdom is accompanied by fewer words than folly.
As I was talking with my community group about this on Tuesday, I noted how my aversion to vulnerability makes writing difficult for me. I told them, “I wish I could write everything under a pseudonym.” And it’s true! I wish I could write publicly and help people and no one ever know who I was. I think this is why I like writing for contract work in my free time because I’m writing advertising or web copy that no one ever knows is from me, but it’s still serving a purpose and helping people in some way.
It would be wonderful if I could actually write under a fake name. Posts like this one are sort of excruciating for me. But I write it because I think it could be helpful for someone. For what it’s worth, I do hope to write fiction at some point in the not-too-distant future, and I am wondering if I could pull of a pen name for that endeavor. :-)
Pray and Pursue Humble Stewardship
I feel like I need to land this plane and that I should give you some sort of practical takeaway. Here is what I hope you may learn from reading this incredibly uncomfortable overflow of my heart:
1) Pray and ask God to help you steward the gifts he’s given you, and he will help you.
2) As you consider how God has gifted you, figure out how you can best use those gifts for the good of others, not the promotion of yourself.
I think the Lord would honor a prayer and a pursuit like those.
God bless you. Thank you for reading.