Editor’s Note: This article is the final installment in our five-part series on renewing storytellers’ souls. To learn why we did this series and how we approached the topics, read our introductory post.
If no one’s ever told you, you’re a liar. And you’re allowed to be proud of it.
As storytellers, we’re engaged in a ministry that’s centered around imaginary realities. We carve out mythic spaces and beckon readers to enter in the hopes that they’ll gain a better understanding of themselves, their world, and God’s purpose for them.
We’re masters at weaving beautiful lies, but not at ignoring ugly ones. Every day, fear whispers that our stories are meaningless, doubt shrieks that we’re terrible writers, and despair taunts us with the notion that God couldn’t possibly have called us to create. We have no choice but to listen—we can’t plug our ears when the voices come from inside. So how can we mute the noise?
The last portion of the CSM resolution we’re currently studying states that “we can only exemplify truth when we are immersed in it ourselves.” Usually we interpret this as advice about themes, but the principle also applies to our mindset about our own value as writers. We’ll struggle to craft stories that free readers from misbeliefs if we don’t counter the three deceptive thoughts dragging us down first.
Lie #1: You’re a Fake (AKA Imposter Syndrome)
The first of these lies is common, because everyone wrestles with it at one point or another. When friends or family members compliment your writing, imposter syndrome peers over your shoulder and scoffs that they’re just being nice. Once you’re out of earshot, they’ll start snickering at your melodramatic scenes and stiff dialogue. Imposter syndrome loves to creep in after critiques, rejections, and during moments when you can’t see the results yet. Over time, it warps your perception of your skills.
When you let your nerves take over, you’ll avoid showing your writing to anyone and edit obsessively, strangling your creativity in an attempt to be so perfect that no one will ever respond negatively. If your writing isn’t five-star material, you’re worthless. If you’re not a professional by now, you’ll never succeed. And the self-abuse goes on.
Imposter syndrome sets a whole shipping container of lies onto your desk for you to unpack. And to deal with all the baggage, you need box cutters of truth.
For starters, your writing probably isn’t as awful as you assume it is. You overestimate your ineptitude because you are your own worst critic. But trying to kill this lie by judging the quality of your writing is like trying to defeat a hydra by chopping off its head. The more persistently you validate yourself through the condition of your writing, the more you’ll believe that you only matter if you write well.
This fix is our default because American society preaches that our level of success raises or lowers others’ opinions of us. We’re addicted to the measurable. But the American concept of worth is not God’s, because the blandness or brilliance of our writing doesn’t dictate how deserving of love we are. We could sit in chairs and eat ice cream for the rest of our lives and Jesus would continue to treasure us. Although His plans involve more than ice cream consumption, it’s still a revolutionary fact.
Objectively assessing your writing is important. You need feedback and edits to gauge when you’re ready to publish. But where your identity is concerned, you need to rely on a much loftier source: whether you can’t spell anything correctly or you’re a bestseller, it won’t change how your Creator cradles you.
Lie #2: Your Project Will Fail
This lie is quieter. It hovers in the background until you’re choosing a premise to work on or an agent to pitch to before politely reminding you that your idea has a massive chance of flopping. Does it bring statistics to prove that prediction? No, but it’s so subtle that you hear it without realizing that the words sank in.
Outward signs soon begin to appear, though. You hesitate to commit to a single project. Instead, you jump between different stories in case your current one doesn’t pan out. You can’t find time to write. Inspiration fades, and you lose the will to tap out words.
You may be tempted to yell, “No, I won’t fail. So there!” and suffocate the lie with a pillow. After all, the odds of your project crashing and burning is too fatalistic to be 100 percent accurate.
Although this is a semi-effective tactic, it’s not the sharpest stone in your sling. Your definition of failure is directly tied to your definition of success, and reshaping the latter will not only hush the lie but also transform your writing process from stressful toil to a labor of joy.
For example, if you want to sell a hundred copies of your debut novel during launch week, that’s an admirable goal. But treating it as your only benchmark leaves you at risk of disappointment. Your story’s merit resides in the lessons it teaches you about your craft and God’s reality, not the number of buyers. Storytelling binds you to a community of caring, vibrant people who share your passions. Better yet, it’s a form of worship, of exercising the creativity that God threaded into your DNA long before you saw your first sunrise. Even if your story never ends up in another person’s hands, writing it with an ear to the heavens makes every word count for eternity.
Lie #3: You’re Not Called to Be a Writer
This lie is touchy, because it’s not always untrue. Not everyone should pursue an author career. But the theory of a calling is mystified in creative circles to the point of harm. If we can’t discern whether we’re honoring God or not, our motivation will shrivel. Serving and glorifying Him is our core mission. Otherwise, we’re writing alone.
This lie affects your writing habits similarly to imposter syndrome. You procrastinate and never fit writing into your schedule. You tiptoe around, feeling guilty when you address dark topics. Your concern about your calling is commendable—you’re seeking God’s approval above all else—but prolonged indecision strains the spirit.
I can’t confirm that you belong in the writing field, but I do know that we tend to question our callings out of fear. If we don’t follow the pattern God has (apparently secretly) laid out for us, we’re sure He’ll shun us until we figure out what we’re supposed to be doing. If this is our perspective, we’ll be too scared to receive any answers He may give when we ask for guidance. We must remember that, even if we wander down the wrong path, His grace is sufficient. He won’t abandon us in the middle of the road. It seems counterintuitive, but we need the confidence to make mistakes.
Another reason that Christian writers search for a “more noble” calling is because they worry that fiction doesn’t fill any needs. It doesn’t solve wars or poverty or famines. And, especially if the audience is small, few people will read the stories. What if we’re just hurling pretty words into the void and impacting no one?
This past year, I volunteered at a therapeutic boarding school, and my job involved building relationships with teenagers. Some were receptive. Others had a hard time opening up due to their troubled pasts. Only then did this less-than-socially-savvy introvert realize that being both an authority and a friend is a challenging line to walk, and I spent the entire summer tripping over it.
But guess who the students did bond with? Fictional characters. At any moment during the day, I’d stumble upon a handful of students reading intently. Why? Because books offer empathy, comfort, and enjoyment. Books don’t boss them around, judge them, or interrogate them. Books invite them into an experience and nestle into a corner of their hearts that might take someone like me half a year to find.
Storytelling matters. Although the results are up to God, fiction has the unique ability to connect deeply with people you’ll never meet.
In the end, calling isn’t all it’s chalked up to be. Your life comprises a thousand tiny yet pivotal events. You’re a writer, but you’re also a friend, sibling, child, volunteer, and coworker. Your life does not revolve around one task that you have to blindly and desperately grope for, because God designed you to do everything for His glory and in His love.
Jot down any other insecurities that are making you skeptical of your calling. Bring them to God, and expect the unexpected, because He never orchestrates circumstances how we think He will. Remember that waiting is okay, but so is acting. Either way, His grace will sustain you.
Fear Is Not Your Enemy
When we discover these little liars inside our heads, our first instinct is to attack them. Unfortunately, we’re misunderstanding fear’s intent—to keep us safe from danger. It’s not stopping us because it’s spiteful, but to protect us from hurt.
Christ didn’t come to beat up those voices, steal their lunch, and label them stupid. He provided a solution instead, a comfort that can relieve the terror when we’re hesitant to move forward: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b).
Writing is strenuous. And painful. We’ll have to surrender it to God over and over and over again. Our fears will overwhelm us on a regular basis. But no matter how often obstacles knock us down, we always have Someone to catch us and lift us back up. We may have to fall a thousand times before we believe it, but He’s always within reach.
This concludes our Renewing the Storyteller’s Soul series. We’d love for you to share your perspective as we close it off! What lie do you most need to silence in your writing life?
A long time ago on a hill not so far away, Gabrielle Pollack fell in love. Not with ice cream or cats (though those things are never far from her side) but with storytelling. Since then, she’s been glued to a keyboard and is always in the midst of a writing project, whether a story, blog post, or book. She was a reader before becoming a writer, however, and believes paradise should include thick novels, hot cocoa, a warm fire, and “Do Not Disturb” signs. Her favorite stories include Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn saga and Nadine Brandes’s Out of Time trilogy.
As those who know her will confess, Gabby is a whole lot of weirdness packed into one INFP. Sharp objects, storms, and trees are her friends, along with stubborn characters and, on occasion, actual people. When she’s not writing, she’s shooting arrows through thickets and subsequently missing her target, jamming on the piano, and pushing her cat off her keyboard. She hopes to infuse her fiction with honesty, victory, and hope, and create stories that grip readers from the first page to the last. Her other goals include saving the world and mastering a strange concept called adulthood.