This week’s guest blogger and I connected via the miracle of the Internet. It’s just a cool thing, I think, when people can “meet” and find they have much in common literally an ocean away from one another. Author Anita Mathias writes wisely about the writing life as it relates to our spirituality.
How to Deal with the Panic and Futility of Literary Comparisons
By Anita Mathias
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
How The Desiderata speaks to writers!
Many writers—late developers precisely because of their vastness of their ambition, and the uniqueness of their gift—compare themselves with others and panic.
Here’sMilton, aged 23:
My hasting days fly on with full career,
But my late spring no bud or blossom showeth.
And how does he deal with the sad, uneasy knowledge that others are writing more, achieving more, becoming more famous?
He refers it to God:
Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow,
It shall be still in strictest measure even
To that same lot, however mean, or high,
Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heav’n;
All is, if I have grace to use it so,
As ever in my great taskmaster’s eye.
How much I write, and if and when fame comes, I’ll leave in God’s hands, he decides. All I need to write, I have—if God gives me grace to use it. All I need is grace.
* * *
And then, by 46, he is blind–and has still not written the one immortal work he longed to, “something which the world will not willingly let die.”
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, he mourns.
Perhaps what God wants from us is our surrender, Miltonmuses. Perhaps he wants to place ourselves, and our talents in his hands, like clay in a potter’s hands. And then he can use us!
“God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best.
They also serve who only stand and wait,” he concludes
And when he is fifty, his long labour and his long patience pay off. Paradise Lost almost writes itself; he said it was as if an angel dictated it to him each night. In the morning, the blind poet sat, dressed tidily, waiting to be “milked” by his daughters to whom he dictated it.
* * *
Gerard Manley Hopkins, another strikingly original poet, struggles when he sees the less gifted flourish, while he, the poet devoted to God and poetry, flounders
|Oh, the sots and thralls of lust|
|Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,|
|Sir, life upon thy cause.|
But, likeMilton, he realizes that there is no nourishment in this railing, and he turns back to God for inspiration and nutrition.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain, he prays.
* * *
And when we compare our ambition, our training, our gifts to our own output? Or compare ourselves to the more successful—but perhaps less gifted. And the comparison makes us sad!! What should we do?
We turn to God, who gives literary gifts. Who said to Moses, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Ex 4 11-12). And we rely on his enabling!
* * *
How can Christian writers increase the odds that our words bless our generation, and, with luck, generations after us?
We cleave to Jesus in faith, for he promised, Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him,” (John 7:38). And as we drink, these streams of living water will inevitably flow through our work!
We seek an “anointing” from the Holy Spirit, the life-giving river flowing from God. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.” (Ezekiel 47: 12).
From our immersion in Jesus, our play in the fields of the Lord, our soaking in the spirit, will flow writing like fruit trees which will not wither. Which will bear fruit every month for food and healing.
* * *
There is a way of stress and hustling open to writers, worrying about readers, rankings, and sales. And there is a way of peace: hearing God’s voice, drinking in his spirit, letting his words and thoughts flow through you. Making peace with being a stream-of-spirit blogger rather than a ninja blogger.
Success is not guaranteed, either way. The race is not to the swiftest, not favour indeed to the wise. Not every writer gets published; not every published writer is widely read; not all today’s writers will be read in twenty years. And not every writer who overhears and records God’s whispers will be celebrated in her hometown, or elsewhere (Mark 12 2-5).
But if you have tried the way of hard work and networking, and are exhausted, discouraged and broken, letting the Lord be your literary agent and muse is infinitely better!!
* * *
Our life and our literary biography is a story, co-written by God and us. He gives us some plot elements: intelligence, education, literary flair, and the time to develop it. We burnish these through study and practice. We can mess up our part of our story. Waste time in depression, anger, disorganization, and frivolity.
But he is the master artist who loves the theme of redemption and specializes in happy endings. And his master plot for creation is a comedy. It ends with a marriage feast, eating, drinking and merry-making, according to Revelation.
And so we can safely entrust our story and our literary ambitions to him. Between us, we’ll write a beautiful happy ending!
Anita Mathias has written Wandering Between Two Worlds, and blogs at Dreaming Beneath the Spires. Her writing has been recognized with a National Endowment for the Arts award; she lives in Oxford,England with her husband and daughters.