Stewardship and Rampant Self-Doubt
A reflection on my dilemma as a writer.
I hope my American readers had a nice Thanksgiving. This is my second personal reflection in as many months, but I hope you’ll understand.
I want to write forever.
I love my job. I think it’s my favorite job I’ve ever had, and I never want to leave the great place I work. But I’d write all day every day if I could support my family doing it.
I think I have helpful things to say and compelling stories to tell.1
But I struggle seriously with two warring thoughts:
1) the ideas I share are worth consideration,
2) I am not.
It’s as if I wish I could say to people, “Look just pretend I don’t exist, whether you like me or not or think I’m qualified or not, I don’t care, but I think that what I have to say is worth reading.”
Does that make any sense?
A couple of months ago I signed a contract to write another book on the social internet and the way it’s shaping us, and I jokingly asked my editor, “Can I write this one under a pseudonym?” His answer was, of course, “No,” because you can’t really write non-fiction and sell any books if no one knows you who are. The authority of a non-fiction writer matters.
And that’s precisely my problem: I don’t see myself as an authority…on anything.
Now I can look at myself a bit unbiasedly, and I can look at the fact that I read about the social internet and its effects on us more than just about anyone I know. And I write about the social internet and its effects on us from a Christian perspective as much as just about anyone else in the space. I am a legitimate content machine—for good and for ill—I have no doubt about that. And I work really hard to read and write and build some sort of authority on the topics you all read about here. But I still have an incredibly small view of myself as any sort of authority on the subject.
“Why would anyone read me?” is pretty frequent refrain that runs through my head. Truly. It’s why the approaching release of my book in February is stressing me out more than writing the book ever did. “You mean I have to try to convince people to buy my book?” I honestly think I’d rather re-write the book than convince anyone to do anything with their money, let alone use it on something I did. It’s not that I don’t think the book is valuable—I do—I just don’t think I am, and I’m deathly afraid of sounding self-important.
When the Abyss Shouts Back
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to run the book store at a local event for Dr. Gary Chapman, the author of The Five Love Languages. The book is published by an imprint of Moody Publishers, my employer, and I was glad to help out with the event as it was in my city. I love working events like this because while spending hours editing books and in Zoom meetings throughout the week can get a bit tedious, interacting with the people who buy the books and attend the events is amazing because it reminds you why you do what you do.
My primary love language has always definitively been “words of affirmation.” I’m a words guy, both in my marriage and otherwise. Getting a single email of appreciation from a reader of my work is worth at least 10,000 pageviews of silent readers. Hearing from readers is what keeps me going on this whole endeavor, really. It’s been this way since my now-wife was commenting on my blog when we were friends in high school.
Some people probably write for the money—I don’t make enough money from writing to do it for that reason. Other writers probably write to get famous or invited to speak at conferences. The last thing I want to be is famous—we’ve already covered my aspirations of writing under a pen name.
I like to write because I think I can clearly communicate truths about complicated topics and help people understand how those complicated topics affect their lives. When I hear from a reader that I’ve done that, it produces a runner’s high unlike anything fame or fortune could provide.
Writing regularly on the internet is like shouting into a massive, dark cave over and over again. It is when the abyss talks back that the magic happens. “I am not alone in this cave!” is a wonderful feeling.
Faithful Stewardship Is the Whole Goal
I think a significant reason these ever-present feelings of inadequacy of really started to roil for the first time in more than a year is because I’m having meetings to prepare for the marketing and launch of the Terms of Service book, which will be available February 1, 2022.
Believe it or not, despite making a career of publishing books, marketing books, and helping authors get the word out about their books, I feel an incredible discomfort making any sort of fuss about my book(s).
The only reasons I care about the sales of any books I write are: 1) I think the book’s content is helpful for people, and 2) because selling books makes it easier to write more of them.2 I am under no illusion I will ever get to write books as a full-time job like John Grisham or someone like that. But I just hope I can sell enough books to keep being allowed to write books. The more books you sell, the easier it is to continue writing more books. And like I said before, I’d prefer not to stop.
I enjoy it, yes. But really I just think writing is the best way to faithfully steward the gifts I have been given. God gives us gifts to serve others, not ourselves. What an amazing opportunity we have, to use the gifts we’ve been given to serve others! Whether you’re an amazing painter, a compassionate listener, a world-class chef, or you’ve been gifted in other ways, your set of gifts has been given to you for the good of others. What a blessing it is to recognize and exercise those gifts!
I think, based on the affirmation of others over many years, that I have the a set of gifts that allows me to read a lot, synthesize information from what I read, and clearly communicate that information in an understandable way through writing. I get up and write at 5am for a couple hours before work each day, despite my crippling self-suspicion, not because I think it’s going to make me famous or because it’s going to make me rich. I do the work because all of this comes down to me recognizing my set of gifts, both in my own observation and through the affirmation of others, and trying to faithfully steward that set of gifts in the best way that I can.
A Request for Grace
I think I want to end this by asking for a measure of grace from you in the next few months.
Between the turn of the new year and the spring, I am going to be enduring the excruciating experience of self-promotion in hopes of selling enough of this book that I have permission to write some more well into the future.
If you find it a bit much or otherwise insufferable, please know that I am likely feeling what you’re feeling with exponential intensity. It isn’t that I have a problem with people promoting their books—it’s that I feel so inadequate promoting mine.
It’s a really good book—I think, anyway. If I didn’t like the book, I would have delayed publishing it until I liked it. I enjoyed writing it, and I actually liked reading it months after I finished writing it. I just don’t like suggesting that something I spent six months writing is worth a few hours of your time, but I do think it is! And as a subscriber to this newsletter, you have a free front-row seat to watching me squirm these next few months.
Thank you for your grace, and thank you for subscribing here. I hope what I write is helpful for you. Always feel free to reply to this email and request articles on any subject and, if I’m able, I will write one for you!
I have dreams of writing fiction and have already outlined what I hope may be my first fiction book. I’ve even written a few pages. :-)
Ok another reason I care about the sales of any books I write is because I want to serve publishers well and not make them lose money because they’re nice people who want to help people read more good books.