Six years ago, I quit writing. After more than 20 years of calling myself a writer, I laid the dream down in the ground, heaped on a bit of earth, and walked away. There were many reasons why I quit writing, but the final nail in the coffin was the literary agent who told a roomful of hopeful writers if we didn’t have a huge platform (think: mega-church pastor) to recommend us, then we’d be lucky to have a unique enough voice to ever be published.Quite right, quite right, murmured the packed room taking notes at the writer’s conference, all while my carefully curated dreams of sitting across from Oprah discussing my book’s inclusion in her book club crumbled to dust.
I knew the truth in that moment: I had no Voice. None. I loved to write, of course, I had a knack for a phrase now and then, but before I could happily delude myself out of the frank honesty, I knew, quite clearly, that my Voice did not exist and so, I could not be published. That night, I had a come-to-Jesus moment in my hotel room: it sounds a lot more romantic than it was. In reality, there was a lot of wadded up tissue and the bitter sense that I had been chasing rainbow gold that did not exist, a failure.
Before that moment, I had tried to be strategic about a writing career. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being strategic, not at all, but for me, I was using strategy to mask the lack of substance, strategy as smoke and mirrors to distract from an inauthentic Voice. I had read the tactics and tutorials for being a better blogger-turned-writer and so I tried them.
If a blogger was popular, I tried on their voice or topics for a while, imitating style and substance. I thought that I needed to narrow my focus a bit more because I couldn’t find my fit in the progressive Christian blogosphere – I wrote too much about my life and motherhood, perhaps. So I tried writing proper fodder for mum-bloggers: tutorials and tips, lists and anecdotes. This was a disaster because I was not made for do-it-yourself crafting or potty training tips. Then I tried the Christian-lady-blogger world with blog posts as devotionals but I was bored to tears and my own experience defied tying my spirituality up in a neat package. I tried to write like wry and smart feminists, objective and logical, then I tried to write like a serious social justice advocate for women. One persona after another after another, all were inadequate and fragmented snippets of my own self, masks for my whole self, and so it’s no wonder that I went to that writing conference discouraged and frustrated and unfulfilled.
Soon after I buried my dreams of being a writer, I was reading through the Sermon on the Mount when I read a few words from Jesus that felt new to me – this wasn’t really possible: I’d read them dozens of times, no doubt. But the Holy Spirit has a way of illuminating the words I need to know or live into at that moment. The words were spoken by Jesus in Luke 6:43 – “You must begin with your own life giving lives. It’s who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.”
The truth broke through again: my scattered copy-cat writing voice was simply evidence of my scattered copy-cat real life.
For years, I had a try-hard life. I tried to match my spirituality to certain men and women, a pastor here, a famous preacher there, a worthy mentor, or a compelling writer, until I could parrot the “right” answers without any real truth or discipleship on my own part. I could cry out, Lord, Lord but I didn’t know the voice of the Shepherd. As a mother, I would put other women on the pedestal above me, trying out their tactics or methods with varying success, always feeling like somehow I didn’t measure up, always feeling guilty and inadequate. As a wife, as a disciple, as a woman, as a writer, you name it, I was a scattered people pleaser looking for her real self. I was an inauthentic performer on the page because I was an inauthentic performer in my life.
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P.S. The article is about finding your authentic self in Christ, not simply about finding one’s voice as a writer.