I struggle as a writer. Wait, there are already problems here. I am not sure its fair to call myself a writer. I think it would be more accurate to call myself an “aspiring writer.” I mean, I do not really ever write. I am now, of course, but this is literally the first time I’ve […]

I struggle as a writer. Wait, there are already problems here. I am not sure its fair to call myself a writer. I think it would be more accurate to call myself an “aspiring writer.” I mean, I do not really ever write. I am now, of course, but this is literally the first time I’ve intentionally sat down to write anything in the last three or four months.

I think I have a good sense of what makes writing so hard for me. I am scared my writing sucks. Over the years I been told I am a good writer and I think that’s exactly what scares me to death about putting words together to make sentences and paragraphs.

I still remember the first time I was given positive feedback for my writing. I was in the 6th grade and I had the hardest teacher in the school. Everyone was scared of Mrs. Hoag. Not only was she tough, but she was supposedly mean. I definitely experienced the first, but the second was probably more myth than anything. The difference between “mean” and “tough” is hard to decipher when you are twelve. We had an assignment to write a short story. I do not have a perfect memory of my story but I’m pretty sure it involved a lady being stuck in the top floor of a burning building and the fireman talking her into jumping into his arms by promising to give her a kiss after he caught her. I called this story A Kiss for a Jump. Pretty progressive for a sixth grader if I do say so myself. When Mrs. Hoag handed back our papers she wrote the following at the top of my paper: “Good pun.” I am pretty sure I had no clue what a pun was at that time but I knew what “good” meant. The hardest teacher in the school thought I was good at puns, and as far as I could interpret, she thought I was a good writer as well. I fell in love with the idea of writing right there on the spot.

Fast forward a number of years and I’m in college. Again, I’m taking a class by the professor that is considered one of the hardest in the school. A few friends and I went to collect our papers in our mailboxes and they found theirs first. From the way their eyes rolled into the back of their heads I could tell that they had clearly received grades that were less than pleasing. Through some strange turn of events I got my paper out of my mailbox and there was a big fat “A” on the top of the front page. Under that “A” was written, “well argued and excellently written.” That struck a nerve like I didn’t expect. I felt like I was in 6th grade again. In that moment part of me started to believe that I really might be good at something. Of course, when my friends, probably out of jealousy, started wondering how in the world I got an A and they got whatever made their eyes roll, I quickly allowed their surprise to ruin this new sense of accomplishment. They were probably right because obviously their opinion mattered more than the hardest professor in the college who clearly has no clue what should be defined as good writing.

A few years after that I remember when I told one of my college friends that I was starting Seminary. He accidentally laughed and said, “really? Why are you going to seminary?” In spite of the many ways that has been proven wrong over the years, this confirmed my suspicion that I was not anything too special.  Of course, I’m talking about seminary because this time brought forth another person telling me to keep on writing. A mentor/friend of mine read my term paper on the movie Pleasantville and how it related to Postmodernism. I think it was called, “Are we living in Pleasantville? Christianity Engages Postmodernity.”  If that sounds super nerdy, it’s because it is. After my friend read my paper he wrote at the end of it, ” You are an incredible writer, keep it up.”

Of course, half of me believed what he wrote and the other half of me reasoned that a guy working on a PhD in Second Temple Judaism (and is now a professor at a major university) must be another terrible judge of writing skills.

Fast forward a few more years and I’m just done preaching at a church in Ndola, Zambia. George Palo, my Zambian pastor friend who I respect just about more than anyone it the entire world prays for me and two other pastors that are with me. During this prayer he half prays/half prophesies prays over each of us. He says great things about them, but I am just narcissistic enough to not really be listening and instead worrying/wondering what he’s going to say about me next. I don’t remember all he said about me but he did say this, “the books that you write will be transformative to many.” Fear not, there is an easy out here. I mean, I grew up as a fairly conservative evangelical and we don’t believe in that prophecy crap, right?

My writing has been affirmed time and time again. Way beyond these four little stories. Like the time a friend in ministry told me “You really need to write more, there is something different about the way you write that needs to be tapped into”, the time my co-pastor affirmed me in something I had written for the church, the time I had a paper I wrote for seminary published and subsequently go mini-viral on the missional blogosphere, and the list probably goes on.

Add all this up and it makes sense as to why I’m scared to death to write.

When it comes down to it, I don’t think that I don’t believe them. I do. I really believe them. I am really proud of my writing. It means a lot to me to call myself a good writer – not just an aspiring one.

I think over the years I’ve put so much personal value into being a good writer that I have become a slave to this positive affirmation. And frankly, if I never write, I will never find out its all a lie. It’s the perfect strategy!

Freedom is out there, and I’m still striving to find it.  I believe this freedom lies in detaching my value from my skills and trusting that it really does not matter if I am a good writer or not. My value as a human being does not depend on you or anyone else liking what I have written. It comes from the image of God inside of me.

If I believed that, maybe I’d take the risk and write more. Maybe me writing this is evidence that I am believing that just a little bit more.

So this post is me considering wading back into the waters of putting my thoughts in print. We shall see where it goes. All I know is that this is a conversation that I had on twitter recently that I just can’t get out of my head:

I honestly do not know if the world needs my words. But if I can get over my need to find some of my value in them, the world might get them anyways.

  • Created to write. What are you “called” to create? Many of us fail to create (what God has gifted us by His image to create).

    Todd’s post is written for our benefit (whether he intended it or not).

    Failure to “create” that for which God uniquely designed us (Ps 139) is a tragic waste of God’s compassionate intentional gift. A gift of blessing we are divinely called to give to ourselves and others.

  • Jonny Radcliff

    I agree with you completely. I’ve had similar feedback and somewhat believe it, but I’m terrified of being wrong. Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone.

  • I so get this. The terror of having to be really good all the time is really hard. You are not alone in this. I’m glad that you are trying to move past it because I do believe the world needs your words.

  • andrewtlocke

    Hey Todd, just found your blog as I’m doing some research on Edwin Friedman (A Failure of Nerve), and your older post showed up in the search results. Write more bro! Don’t worry about quality, you’re gifted above and beyond what might be considered normal in that category. All you need to focus on is writing the right things for the right reasons. Write because you must or write because you want to, just write.