For the past twelve weeks I have been privileged to participate in a writing mentorship led by Lore Ferguson Wilbert. She has an impressive writing resume, but even more remarkable is her character. I’ve neglected this space for a while now and it’s time to pay some attention to it. I want to share my reflection from my time writing under her. I have a hunch that I’m a better writer because of her; I know for certain I’m a better person.
I’ve started this reflection three times, now, and each time I’ve only made it a few sentences in. Writing has always been a familiar rhythm for me, but since I started my writing “career” it has felt clunky and unsure. I applied for this mentorship hoping to find my cadence, wanting to sync up to the metronome that beats so steady. I think I was looking for something I had lost.
When I ventured out into the world of writing and publishing, I hoped to find my place in the mix. Where I thought I would find an empty stage and an audience, I found a crowded green room. All the stars had already performed and I handed out roses and handshakes and heartfelt sentiments of praise. Instead of finding a role, I found a room full of over-qualified competitors, of which, I was certainly the least.
Instead of joining in the cacophony, I clutched my papers to my chest and wandered aimlessly through the twitter feed and blog rolls. Occasionally I would rifle through my stack, draw a piece out, and extend it out purposefully into the mix. More often than not, it was returned to me. Graciously, but firmly.
I stopped creating. The art I had encountered was so beautiful and so abundant that I was overwhelmed with awe, with envy, and with sadness. My love of the craft was drowning in a sea of comparison.
I’ve never doubted that I’m a writer. I have doubted that I would ever have readers. I try to tell myself that it doesn’t matter, that I write for myself, that I’m doing what I know I was created to do. My heart still sinks with every rejection and missed opportunity.
J.R.R. Tolkien said, “They say it is the first step that costs the effort. I do not find it so. I am sure I could write unlimited ‘first chapters.’ I have indeed written many.” It wasn’t hard hitting “submit” and applying for this writing mentorship. It wasn’t hard reading the materials and doing the assignments. Sure, many of the assignments were challenging. I dug deeper the past three months than I have in a long time. I agree with Tolkien, though. The start is the easiest for me. I signed up for this journey looking for a unicorn – a muse. I wanted to somehow ignite the spark, fan the flame, and start a wildfire in me that would take over. I wanted to make magic with my words – find my unique voice – and stand on an undiscovered stage where my message would finally be heard. What I found instead was a room full of people with powerful stories and incredible talent.
To say this experience was humbling is an understatement. Throughout this course I vacillated between focusing too much on myself and too much on what the other writers were doing and thinking. Neither extreme left me satisfied. When my gaze shifted inward I became either too proud of my work or self-deprecating. When I looked around me for the approval of Lore or the other writers, I always came up short and felt like I lacked what they had.
Now, at the end of my time with this journey, my eyes settle on Christ, the giver of my gift, and theirs. I think I will always struggle with my purpose, my voice, and my calling as a writer. It will be a battle to make it about the gift-giver, and not about me or the people around me. I see this, now, and I want to enter in and do the work to make my writing an act of worship, not a competition or an act of gratifying self. The real work starts now, when I don’t have a teacher to please, peers to appeal to, and assignments to guide my voice. And yet, it’s in this space that I have the potential to do the work that He has set before me, unhindered and undistracted.
My goals spring forth from this soil. I want to do the work of writing and write four hundred words a day. I want these words to be unadulterated by others’ expectations or parameters. From my mouth to His ears. I want to publish to my personal website once a week. This public forum for my words is to hold me accountable, and to trust that the Lord has a reader in mind if I am faithful to share the message He has given me. It may be one reader, it may be one hundred. The numbers don’t matter, though, my faithfulness does.
The most encouraging part of the past twelve weeks has been to watch Lore lead by example. I have been so challenged by her humility and wisdom and care with the words that God has given her to share. I see her seeds being sown in good soil, and multiplied a hundred fold. More than anything, I want to be like that. Her success doesn’t draw me in, although I could be tempted by it. Her faithful following of Jesus does. The relationship she has with the Lord and the way her faith influences her work leaves me inspired and longing for that close friendship and partnership with Christ. As I end this journey she has taken me on, I will look to Him as the source of my gift, and return what He has given back to Him. “…for all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee” (1 Chronicles 29:14b, KJV).