How do you know when you’re ready to write…?
Passed English class with an A?
Attended the finest writer conferences?
Completed an MFA from a prestigious college?
Accolades from friends, family, and fans around the globe?
Maybe these are the validation points the writer needs before jumping into the writing game with both feet. But for most writers these are not what proves readiness or longevity in the art form.
C. S. Lewis explained in one of his letters to a young writer this way:
“I am sure that some are born to write as trees are born to bear leaves; for these, writing is a necessary mode of their development. If the impulse to write survives the hope of success, then one is among these,” (C. S. Lewis and the Art of Writing, pp. 134).
For Lewis, the litmus test of writers is twofold. First, writers will write, have to write, and will not stop writing. It’s akin to breathing. They’ll write because it’s part of their development and in their bones and guts, and DNA.
But Lewis also suggests a second test for determining the readiness of a writer. Can they continue to write regardless of their success?
No one writes for the success that may or may not come. Writers started on their typewriters in grade school for the sheer exhilaration and joy of telling stories. Writers write and success is a nice byproduct for the time, work, and effort, but not the primary motivator.
I’d argue the only way you’ll have any success in writing is if you die to your pride and ego and pipe dreams of becoming a household name.
What is success anyway? Publishing deal? Notoriety? Six figure income? Clicks and views on your blog and Medium page?
None of these things are wrong and none of these things will sustain a writer. Deals come and go. Money dries up. Some posts, articles, and books don’t resonate. Notoriety for writers is unheard of unless you have the last name King, Rowling, Patterson or Child. Even these successful writers wouldn’t be picked out of a police lineup.
The pure motivation of money in any field is a fools errand. No one can predict economic down turns. The best marketed books sometimes plummet into nothingness. Intelligent people in publishing houses still don’t know why certain books sell millions and others thousands.
But when the impulse to write is greater than success, you’ll find true joy. When no one is watching, and no one cares, and you still write… you’re a little crazy, or maybe, you’re a writer.
Here’s the secret.
When success isn’t our primary motivator we are freed to create our best work. When the fear and anxiety of fame and fortune wane and the explosive joy of creating comes to the surface… you are no longer shackled by what if this stinks, what if it bombs, and what if the writing police lock me up for a bad book?
You can write free and honest. Maybe for the first time.
C. S. Lewis learned this lesson. Before he became a Christian, his life was filled with pride and ego. He wrote to be a known commodity and strived for fame and fortune above all else.
When God humbled him he wrote for a different reason. Lewis wrote because he had to. Wrote because success mattered little. He found true joy in God. Writing became a gift but not an ultimate thing.
Some say Lewis’ best work came after his conversion to Christ because he was freed to simply create. To create for an audience of One.
I don’t know why you write. Not sure what motivates the words on the page. But, seeking success, and only success, will never be enough to sustain you long term.
Write for joy. Write because it’s a gift and grace and God-ordained creative outlet. Write because you have something to say. Write because words have power.
Write because you have to. Write when success is not your primary goal.
Are you ready to write?
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