Editor’s Note: This article is the final installment in our four-part series on pursuing the storyteller’s great commission. To learn why we ran this series and how we approached each topic, read our introductory article.
Sometimes the biblical ideals that inspire grand visions for our stories also weigh on us like boulders we must carry uphill. The prospect of imitating God’s design is as challenging as it is invigorating. How are we supposed to influence one person, much less the hundreds who will read our stories, when our own time, energy, and knowledge feels bleakly scarce?
Over the past few weeks, different members of our team have been exploring the implications that the Dominion Mandate and the Great Commission hold for writers. But emphasizing the significance of those passages without describing the habits we need to put into practice wouldn’t be fair.
However, the application is simpler than we might expect: God has bestowed each of us with gifts according to our needs, and when we learn to recognize His provision, we’ll understand how to multiply it. He never coaxes us to follow in anyone’s footsteps except His own, nor to race against anyone except our old selves. And His grace is sufficient for both.
A Posture of Gratitude
When I’m faced with a daunting task, my first response is usually to lament how ill-equipped I am. If only I could afford to buy this tool, I would double my productivity. If only my network were broader, I would get more interactions on social media. If only my health were better, my paycheck bigger, my relationships stronger. Training ourselves to fight self-deprecation is one of the most important steps in stewarding the talents our Master has left in our care.
First Corinthians tells us “it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (v. 4:2). To be faithful means to be steadfast and resolute in our beliefs. It’s an attitude that stems from trusting God, not ourselves. In our competitive culture, we tend to prioritize results, but our book sales, social media followers, and five-star reviews won’t deepen our relationship with the Lord, nor should popularity be our main objective. When I survey the people in my life who display the most confidence, peace, and joy in their work, all of them share a common virtue: gratitude. “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thess. 5:18). Gratitude positions us in submission to God and shifts our focus from striving toward the future to thriving in the present.
Maintaining gratitude will grant us stamina—and even direction. It turns our weaknesses into potential and our strengths into action. But how do we identify these assets? Although we’ll review a handful over the coming paragraphs, the most powerful one is already within us, and that’s where we need to start.
1. Spiritual Resources
As believers, we partake in the wonder and mystery of a relationship with the Holy Spirit. He is our daily, even moment by moment, Comforter who brings us discernment and communion with our Heavenly Father and His Son. We can approach the Father whenever we wish, with worry or praise or any emotion on the spectrum, because prayer is a conversation, not a soliloquy. The Trinity offers us an inexhaustible connection to our Creator.
Creation itself tugs on our souls too. When we’re tired and discouraged, a stroll through a garden, park, or beside a country road can rejuvenate us. “Never be within doors when you can rightly be without,” as the beloved teacher Charlotte Mason would say. Every vein on a leaf and butterfly wing shows us a glimpse of God’s colossal imagination.
As created beings who bear His thumbprint, we also yearn to blend truth and beauty into masterpieces reminiscent of “in the beginning.” Poets, painters, musicians, writers, and filmmakers span from one side of the globe to the other and from the pages of history to now. Even fields that we don’t view as “artistic,” such as athletics and business, brim with physical expression and clever problem solving. No microscopic insect or human profession escapes the effects of intelligent design.
Whenever we’re in need of restoration or ideas, we can look to God for limitless support and His handiwork for bountiful examples. Slowing down, watching, and listening is the best strategy for growing our finite perspectives.
2. Life Experience
Trials and blessings shape us. Whether through the formative seasons of childhood, grief, or celebration, we carry with us the unique culmination of the plot points our divine Author planned for us before we were born. No one else can write the stories we can, but that assurance is easy to downplay when our peers seem more steeped in a certain topic. Assessing our level of understanding is wise, but instead of letting doubts stall us, we should seek out beta readers, workshops, and mentors who can help us convey the themes God has laid on our hearts as authentically as possible.
We may be more perceptive than we give ourselves credit for, though. Perhaps our social sphere enables us to write the opposite gender with increased accuracy, perhaps a friend who attempted suicide enables us to write about mental illness with palpable empathy, or perhaps our jokester siblings enable us to write humor with memorable one-liners. We’re apt to assume that anyone could handle these portrayals, but that’s because the traits that are second nature to us don’t seem special. Although we can’t capture everyone’s reality, we can introduce readers to a specific character, and that’s where we can lean into our own backstories.
Oftentimes we overthink God’s instructions. The Great Commission is a tall order, but it’s not intended to confuse or intimidate us. If we’re faithful in our daily walks with the Lord, managing our time and responsibilities effectively, our life experiences can flow out of and through our communion with Him. We’ll have tough days, lazy days, and distracted days when we forget to pray and study Scripture, but He doesn’t expect perfection. We can return to obedience and rise with a new morning, asking Him what He’s trying to teach us and how we can integrate those lessons into our projects.
3. Jobs and Hobbies
Whether or not we agree with the adage “write what you know,” it serves as a reminder that all of us have areas of expertise we can draw from. Of course we can (and should!) research unfamiliar material and request outside feedback, but taking an inventory of the data we’ve already stored in our minds will reveal possibilities we may have overlooked.
I spent more than six years in healthcare revenue cycle management, which is fancy terminology for the department that ensures hospital claims get paid. Most people’s eyes glaze over when I start explaining the role. It wasn’t my passion, or relevant to my speculative fiction manuscript, but it did expose me to a corporate buyout, how different personalities behave while in leadership, and various approaches to troubleshooting. I probably won’t ever write about a wizard overlord wielding overdue bills against peasant subjects who keep ignoring his summoning spells, but I did meet people who expanded my awareness of human idiosyncrasies and inclinations.
Any real-life observation or detail can be woven into a story, even our favorite recreational activities. When someone loves music, we can sense it with each strum of their guitar. The same is true for authors who incorporate their personal interests into their plots—like Gillian Bronte Adams, whose fondness for horses is evident in Of Fire and Ash, or Kristy Cambron, whose fascination with Parisian history undergirds The Lost Castle.
God has surrounded each of us with community, whether a spouse who brainstorms with us, a friend who fangirls over all of our early drafts, or a church that prays for us when rejections and writer’s block drag us down. Even if we feel isolated, we lose nothing, aside from pride, when we reach out. I’m always amazed at how many successful people are willing to lend advice. Brandon Sanderson explains why in one of his lectures: “People who are passionate about things generally look forward to the opportunities to be passionate about it in a way that’s going to make your story better. So find people and make use of them.”
Not every relationship needs to revolve around our writing. But when we open up to the people closest to us about our dreams and struggles, we may discover that the support and accountability we’ve been longing for is more accessible than we realized. And whether we stumble upon our tribe in our backyard or not, online networking can be invaluable too. Instagram is a particularly useful platform for finding writers of similar genres, conferences that coincide with our career goals, freebies packed with tips, and webinars led by award-winning authors and editors. Since God designed humans for companionship, our efforts to connect will bear fruit of one kind or another.
5. Untapped Resources
All of us eventually hit a plateau in our writing where we lack the tools to continue climbing upward, as Daeus talks about in the free mindset course here at Story Embers. This is normal, and the sooner we acknowledge that we need help, the quicker we can resume making progress.
As I alluded to before, a wealth of information is available online, waiting for us to click to unlock it. In addition to paid courses, sometimes authors will run promotions, send e-books as a reward for subscribing to their newsletters, or discuss story craft on YouTube. The volume of content can be overwhelming, though, and we need to be choosey about where we’re investing our time and money. Narrowing our search to a specific category (such as revisions or characterization) can reduce aimless scrolling, but we also need to evaluate the credibility of a company or individual we’re considering trusting.
Anyone can start up an editing or coaching service. So a proven track record consisting of testimonials, education, and competent communication is essential. Better yet, poll your writer pals for referrals to resources that enriched their journeys.
How to Cope with a Shortage of Resources
The above list is meant to be encouraging—but life can also yank us into rough seasons when we’re unable to afford courses and conferences. Or maybe the combination of our location and slow internet prevents us from building friendships with other writers. How do we cross these valleys?
While our circumstances can be complicated, the solution isn’t: kneel at the foot of God’s throne, thank Him for His generosity, and ask for His continued provision. As we lay our desires in His hands, we need to be watchful, but not impatient, for His answer. He may surprise us.
A year and a half ago, I joined a discipleship group at church to look for an older female mentor. Three weeks in, I discovered that one of the other girls was a fantasy writer who hoped to attend the same writing conference I’d heard about through a mutual favorite author on Instagram. Fast forward a year, and we both hopped on a plane to Realm Makers, where we made lasting memories and new friends. The outcome was unexpected, but the Lord saw my most pressing need.
Putting His Kingdom First
Jesus charged His followers to make disciples of every nation and baptize them “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). What if we treated our stories with the same immersion and reverence? To scatter our ideas in the shadow of the cross, knowing we’re sinners stumbling along, and seek His blessing and guidance as we try to honor Him with our lives and our writing?
That may sound like an immense burden, but when we set our sights on His kingdom, we march forward in His strength. Allow that to ease the pressure of writing the right story the right way. Let’s be faithful stewards of the abundance around us and embrace the exhilaration of creating in the likeness of God!
This concludes our Pursuing the Storyteller’s Great Commission series. But we’d love to hear from you. What resources do you rely on when you’re striving to be faithful to your calling?
Rachel Gilson has been writing stories since she found a dusty old typewriter buried in her parent’s basement at the age of nine. What started as a love for writing whodunit shorts (that she never finished before starting new ones) developed into a love for writing fantasy and science fiction.
Currently she’s working on an epic fantasy novel exploring sibling dynamics, free will, and hordes of flying, burrowing, and galloping creatures ready to kill or be killed. With her stories she hopes to glorify her Creator, who definitely holds first place for being the most impressive world builder ever.
When she’s not writing with her golden retriever Nova nestled at her feet, you can find her tabletop gaming with her awesome husband, out in the garden picking berries, or reading fables to her daughter in the hammock. She loves traveling to explore medieval castles and talking all things writing craft.