I used to believe that a writer’s mission was to tell the world important truths through stories.
Talk about pressure.
If you’re like me, you don’t handle pressure well. I’m generally laidback, but when I start worrying that I’m not as intentional, skilled, or efficient as I should be, my life can get wild in a hurry. The ugly word for that is perfectionism.
Wiser people than me have already shared advice on perfectionism, so I just want to say a few words about the mentality of needing to have all the answers. When I write with the single-minded assumption that I’m teaching a lesson, the task becomes a burden. Attempting to wrestle all the different story threads into straight lines that lead to a sole point is like tackling a greased pig. I’m left feeling hot, frustrated, and unsuccessful.
Several grand crashes after I tried writing specifically to make a statement, I decided that I needed to re-evaluate, and three simple but invaluable lessons emerged.
1. The Key Is to Ask Rather Than Answer
I know of only two forms of writing where clear logic and the ability to convince with facts are strengths: sermon and law.
Why not fiction writing? Because excellence is different for a story than a sermon. The purpose of a sermon is to instruct and convict. The purpose of a story is to touch and convict.
Both sermons and stories can provide answers to difficult questions. But instruction is the highest calling of a sermon, whereas the highest calling of a story is to penetrate someone’s heart and open it to truth. A story accomplishes this by asking more than it answers. We enjoy stories more than sermons, which means we’ll seek answers for the sake of a story we love.
Of course, the best stories do teach profound lessons. But that isn’t their primary goal. Fortunately, we don’t all have to be as wise as pastors to excel at storytelling. Even a timid girl of nineteen who doesn’t have much experience with anything can write a good story.
No matter our youth and foolishness, we have one enormous asset: we’re fallible humans writing to other fallible humans. The quandaries that intrigue us and make us think will have the same effect on others.
Christ is a wonderful example of this. He used both sermons (Matthew 5) and stories (Matthew 13) as He taught. Study the stories. They ask more than they answer.
2. Writing Is Worship
Before we proclaim that we fully understand what writing should be, we need to take a step back and consider what writing is first and foremost.
It can be a ministry, a passion, or a dream. We all have our own goals and reasons. But before any other worthy motives, writing should be an expression of worship to our Creator. Although impacting readers through our work is important, our focus needs to be on showing devotion and adoration toward the Creator who gave us the gift. Just between us and Him.
We’re not preachers, remember? We don’t pound out sermons from the inspired pulpit of God’s omniscience. We are the poets who strive to write as humbly and honestly as we can, content to know that God has the answers to the questions we keep asking.
When our focus isn’t on possessing the answers but on honoring the God who does, writing is a lot easier.
3. We Are Only the Signposts
As much as I’d like to hope that one day I’ll be as wise as God, the reality is that I’m human and so I won’t.
Our favorite books are the ones that teach and inspire us, and we all yearn to write those kind of stories. I mistakenly assumed that I had to exemplify all of the wisdom those books imparted and then learn how to lay it all out precisely and beautifully. Not only was that humanly impossible, but since none of the wisdom was mine in the first place, my mindset was also arrogant.
What does being a signpost mean? We stand on the road to the King’s palace and call out to passersby, painting word pictures of the glories ahead. When travelers stop and beg for answers, all we have to do is point up the path. “By the grace of my King, I know only a little. If you want better answers, approach Him yourself.”
The pride that fuels our calling should not come from our skill or our wisdom, but from gratitude to Christ that we’re privileged to be signposts for Him.
Your Wisdom Doesn’t Matter
Your knowledge is a thimbleful of dust in the vast desert of God’s eternal wisdom. You cannot help Him—only serve Him. One humble and devoted signpost is of more use to Him than the smartest philosopher who leans only on his own strength.
Ultimately, the outcome isn’t in our hands, and for that we should be infinitely glad.
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10)
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on July 20, 2018. Updated March 10, 2022.
Kate Lamb is a writer, dreamer, poet, singer, psychologist, color enthusiast, and a child of God. She gravitates to anything sparkly and is a firm believer in the power of color-coding your closet. (Just your closet. Nothing else is worth that level of organization.) Newly married to the love of her life, Daeus Lamb, she spends her days writing, tutoring, designing, and trying her hand (with limited success and unmitigated enthusiasm) at baking all kinds of bread. Baking and drawing are her sensory therapies, singing and poetry are her emotional outlets, and beautifying the world one story at a time is her consuming passion. Also answers to “the MBTI geek” and “that color girl.” Will definitely convince you to revamp your closet and spill all of your darkest emotional secrets within a year of becoming your friend. She’s been writing from the age of 14 and aspires to spin stories with the soul of Tolkien, the simplicity of C. S. Lewis, the creative genius of Ray Bradbury, and the raw emotional truth of Markus Zusak and Patrick Ness. She obviously has no problems with dreaming big. She shares a platform with her (much more organized) other half, and they can usually be found up to something new and ambitious at DaeusLamb.com.