Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Ticker tape temptation

THERE’S A FINE line between a fist pump and a faceplant, as this collection of sportsmen and women celebrating victory prematurely illustrates. But it’s not only athletes who can stumble by focusing more on the ticker tape than the finishing tape.

I see a similar thing happen quite often in the writing world. There, some would-be authors spend more time obsessing about how many people will read their words, rather than ensuring that what they have to offer is worth reading in the first place.

Building a “platform” may be an unavoidable part of the publishing world these days. Still, it’s only a nice frame inside a nice building: you need a great piece of art to hang in there for people to come and see.

Now, I’d like to be a New York Times best-selling author as much as the next writer. But I try to remind myself that scale isn’t necessarily the same as impact. Success isn’t just measured by how many people read your words. Froth and fruit are not the same.

Tellingly, some of the most celebrated writers didn’t set out to touch millions.

A teenage girl jotted down her experiences hiding from the Nazis in World War II Holland in a private diary, with no intention others should see it. Discovered after her death, The Diary of Anne Frank has since sold more than 30 million copies.

A middle-aged man explored his own faith struggles and heartache in a story he photocopied as a Christmas gift for family members. Wm. Paul Young’s The Shack has gone on to sell more than 20 million copies.

Neither author had their eyes on an audience. Each simply knew they had to write down what they had experienced. They wrote as much for themselves as for anyone else.

There’s a biblical example, too. A doctor who was an early disciple of Jesus felt led to write an account of all that had happened, even though others had already done the same thing. He had just one reader in mind—declaring that he had decided to “write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus” in the first chapter of his Gospel of Luke. Since then, it has since been read by, oh, a couple gazillion people.

Sometimes people tell me that God has called them to write. I usually mix my encouragement for them to do so with a reminder that does not necessarily mean He has called them to be read widely, or even published. Yet, that doesn’t diminish the importance of what they do.

Saying that God isn’t necessarily interested in writers making the big leagues may sound a bit like sour grapes, especially from someone in the minors, but it’s true nonetheless. And you won’t ever get to do a victory lap until you first put everything you have into the race. Keep your eye on the prose, not the prize.


Photo by steeljam on Foter.com/CC BY-NC-ND

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