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In which art is like manna

I used to save my best work. I would hoard my stories and ideas, convinced it was a waste to blog them or share them with online magazines or my own journal because they needed to be saved for a worthy time and a worthy place. I wanted to be a writer, an artist, and so in my attempt to protect my “best” work, I simply didn’t write.

I thought about writing. I longed to write. I read voraciously. I claimed the title of writer. But I wasn’t writing.

It wasn’t until I laid all of my writerly-dreams on an altar and threw a match on them that I began to actually write. Once I was separated from outcome or expectations, I was free to finally, at last, write again. A relief! I wasn’t saving anything for anyone: there was no reason to hold back. I had nothing to prove or expect.

I used up all those carefully held-back stories in less than a year. (So much for those….)

And at the end of that year, I had more words, more ideas, more stories. The more I wrote, the more I had to write.

It took me three years of writing in obscurity, nearly every single day, all while steadily “using up” every half-decent turn of a phrase or idea, wasting my metaphors on imperfect mediums, to discover my voice. I have found God’s provision, his abundance, his promises for daily bread, to be true, even in art and creation.

Because not one of my terrible little stories or ideas were wasted, they nourished me, body, mind, and soul, and then, when they were gone, there was room for the new words to come. Pour out the old wine to make room for the new.

Yet when I was writing my book, I found myself there again, Oh, this is rather good, you should save this for another book! Don’t use up all of your stuff here, save some of it for later. You want to write more than just this book, remember. you want to write for the rest of your life, so perhaps you should save this story, or save this sentence, or this metaphor, this idea would do well in its’ own book perhaps. 

Annie Dillard says, “One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better.”

Inspiration comes for the day’s work, for the moment’s discipline, and you either use it or you don’t.

There is no hoarding, there is no saving the best for later. There is only right now, this moment of creation, and so I’ve learned to use it up.

Art doesn’t lend itself to perfectionists and misers. I’ve found that my creativity responds to generosity.

I believe the freedom to create – or to “spend it all” as Annie Dillard says – is in direct connection to our trust in God’s provision. Do we believe, even in our art, that he is the giver of all good gifts, the provider, the El Shaddai, my God of more-than-enough?  Or are we in charge of hoarding it for ourselves and our carefully crafted outcomes and desires?

It’s an ancient story, the one about the Israelites wandering in the desert, hungry and wasting away. Then every morning, God sent bread for the day.

Just enough for one day, never more and never less. If the people tried to gather it and save it, it spoiled and rotted to waste. They could only gather what they would eat, and then, in the sunrise, there was the promise of enough again, for another day.

 

Art is like that daily manna-bread to me. There is always enough for the day. Gather it, eat it while it’s there, turn around and release it by sharing it.

And tomorrow when we rise and work all over again, I usually find it – whatever you call it, the Holy Spirit, your muse, your words, your inspiration – rushes into the vacuum left by the sacred act of imperfect creation and again, there is enough for yet another day.

And you gather it, break the bread, bless it, eat it, and pass it around, all over again, washed down with new wine.

 

 

art, Jesus Feminist, writing
  • http://www.redemptionsbeauty.com/ Shelly Miller

    Love it all but I’m taking this one with me: Do we believe, even in our art, that he is the giver of all good gifts, the provider, the El Shaddai, my God of more-than-enough? Or are we in charge of hoarding it for ourselves and our carefully crafted outcomes and desires? Some good questions to ponder and then I fall on my knees. Thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/tallisfabulous Annemarie Sawatzky

    I always try to hoard my energy – artistic, emotional, physical. It’s too scary to put it all out at once. I’m going to bookmark this for a reminder.

  • http://annieathome.com/ Annie Barnett

    Oh, Sarah. There’s so much goodness here. I’ve wrestled with these things in actual painting much more than with word weaving. I think the places dearest to me – the ones that require much vulnerability, are the ones I want to keep close. I am learning this slowly here – how to share with open arms. Thank you for lighting the way here.

  • http://www.gettingdownwithjesus.com/ dukeslee

    Good words, Sarah.

    Daily, I pick up own word & story manna — literally “what is it” — and sometimes I truly DON’T know what it is until I’ve tasted it, right there when I hit the very last period on the very last sentence. And I’m such an unfaithful, ungrateful clod. Because I assume that tomorrow, there will be no more manna. I freak. I fret. I hem, then haw.

    But behold: I wake up to more “what-is-its” on my writing desk.

  • http://www.dearabbyleigh.com/ Abby Barnhart

    use it up! keep it coming! just try to find the end of it!

  • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

    I am totally like this when I write – holding too tightly to my words to really let them flow freely, afraid that there isn’t enough of them inside me to last. I’m afraid of being the starving artist, but my fear starves *me* in the process. This post filled my soul. Thank you for writing this, friend.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=646116619 Juanita Dueck

    Good gracious I missed you but I just love this. Speaks to me prophetically. Thank you. And welcome back Sarah.

  • Lalania

    Thank you for this!

  • http://www.creeksideministries.blogspot.com/ Linda Stoll

    Yes … He keeps the well full to overflowing … because it’s His well, not ours.

  • http://felicemifa.wordpress.com/ Margaret_at_FeliceMiFa

    This is so perfect! I love the quote from Annie Dillard. One of the spiritual challenges I keep running up against is my tendency to be dissatisfied with my daily bread. I always want to know that there will be enough for many days. I guess that’s where the trust in God’s abundance has to come in.

  • KimberlyCoyle

    I wrote an eerily similar post in February, and in it, I referenced a writer who is teaching me to spend it all, every time. It just so happens, I was referencing you! Be encouraged, friend. We see you gathering up your daily bread and how you feed the hungry with every last crumb.

  • http://twitter.com/marileeakland Marilee Akland

    Thank you for posting this – I can relate to this. I have found that in complete transparency and honesty in writing, I have found so much freedom.

  • Kathie Chiu

    Before the days of tablets and smart phones, I wrote a wonderful verse of prose that really spoke loudly about women in ministiry. It was every ounce of frustration and passion I had in me and I tucked it away in a notebook from a writing class I was taking… for later. When I went back to get it and post it, I couldn’t find it. I don’t waste them anymore. Good advice for the writer. Thanks for sharing that.

  • Jamie Bagley

    Your words bring a huge gulp of fresh air truth. Beautiful and encouraging. Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jenniferbydemyers Jennifer Byde Myers

    Great message. Thank you. I have found myself here: “I used to save my best work. I would hoard my stories and ideas,
    convinced it was a waste to blog them or share them with online
    magazines or my own journal because they needed to be saved for a worthy
    time and a worthy place. I wanted to be a writer, an artist, and so in
    my attempt to protect my “best” work, I simply didn’t write.” for almost an entire year. I’m hoping to move forward now.

  • http://ifmeadowsspeak.blogspot.com/ tammy@if meadows speak

    This is speaking to me. Thank you for sharing it.

  • Sarah Caldwell

    Yes.Yes.Yes! I feel many times like you have a window into my thoughts and feelings, and somehow the thing I fear the most, or feel the deepest–I find that and resonate with that in your writing. I store things up – I have ‘saved’ many a thought for only my journal…and then wanted to call myself a writer, but couldn’t bring myself to–for fear of my mediocrity. Art and Creation are truly manna – and these words have fed my creative mind and spirit today – thank you Sarah! (I’m so excited to read your words in Jesus Feminist! – Eshet Chayil :)

  • Tara_pohlkottepress

    oh sarah, yes. and the beauty of knowing that even writers I admire, that are doing things I admire, like writing their first books ;) have also spoke into the great unknown, not knowing if they are heard or if their voice had legs to carry them through the long life of metaphors and turns of phrases ahead of them. of course, you do darlin’ because whew. girl. you can write. but i love that the secret fears of my heart are not unknown, and am so thankful for you dispelling these lies for us all. i can’t WAIT to hold your words in my hands, use them up, I promise to savor :)

  • http://www.inahazelnutshell.blogspot.com/ Laura Werezak

    I really love this Dillard quote, thank you for reminding me of it. Time for me to give up perfectionistic, miserly ways and just give. The metaphor of manna is helpful.

  • http://www.tanyamarlow.com/ Tanya Marlow

    I’ve been doing this! I’ve been saving them up, saving them all up, measuring their worth and trying to work out which are the Big Ones and Important Ones.

    And you’re right, you’re right – I set out blogging a year ago with 20 ideas scribbled down on a piece of paper with no coherence or unity, just ‘interesting thoughts’ that I hadn’t been able to share with people. I told myself that I’d blog until I’d got all the ideas out. But they just kept coming, and the list grew longer.

    And yet, when I go to write a blog post, I so often get that terrified ‘I haven’t got anything to say.’ Despite the ‘insurance’ of a list of 50+ ideas for blog posts. What if I use them all up?

    Art as manna. This is genius. This whole post feels to me a prompting of God, a throwing off of fear, a trust that maybe God has led me unexpectedly into this new ‘ministry’ (see – I can’t even trust myself to own it or call it Proper Ministry yet, I have to do the inverted commas thing). If God is in this, maybe it’s not about doing this to prove myself, to him or anyone else. Maybe it’s about Him giving stuff to me, and me sharing it as it comes. I would have blushed and hid to even suggest that last sentence (how can I begin to claim God’s whisperings within my own thoughts?) but reading this post is making me wonder, grow in strength maybe a little. It is revolutionary for me to begin to think that maybe I’m allowed to enjoy writing not because it’s self-indulgent but because it’s ministry, it’s creativity and God is creative.

    I’m being hopelessly inarticulate, but – just – thank you. I needed this. I will treasure this up.

  • http://twitter.com/MarilynYocum Marilyn Yocum

    “It took me three years of writing…“using up” every half-decent turn of a phrase or idea, wasting my metaphors on imperfect mediums, to discover my voice.”

    This is completely true. Thanks for the reminder and encouragement.

  • http://www.leannepenny.com Leanne Penny

    Yes Sarah, very yes, I’ve been all messed up as a writer lately, it seems all un-used, unseen and wasted. The concept of Manna, nourishment is sustaining me and this just adds another piece to the puzzle.

  • Rebecca Henrich

    I love this, thank you for your words! My own tendency to hoard, to save for later, never ends up being worth it. I have too little faith to trust that this, the here-and-now, is in fact NOT the ONLY best that God has to offer; it’s just what he’s offering NOW. I need to learn to take it, use it, give it, and be ready for tomorrow’s blessings when they come.

  • Jen Hatmaker

    Thank you for this wisdom. I am totally guilty of hoarding words, and I tend to find they’ve lost their punch when I finally trot them out, because the whole idea was fresh manna from weeks, months ago, and now it is just stale. Good word for the writers and creatives today, my friend.

  • Adriene Buffington

    Thanks for this!

    I’m not a writer, but I am an artist- my medium is fabric, and we quilters do the same thing with our fabric- saving and hoarding those really special fabrics for some other project, some other day.

    Well, today I am facing that awkward moment when all the things I was working on are finished, and I don’t know what is next. You’ve inspired me to choose the very best, most special, hoarded up pieces of fabric and begin cutting and sewing them TODAY!

    Inspired and motivated!

  • Rachel

    Eating yours up. Thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/sarahdpark Sarah Park

    Sarah, thank you so much for sharing this writing wisdom. I need to hear this. And I love what you said about not one of your ideas being wasted — they all nourished you in some way. I struggle with looking over past work with regret — “I could have done this better, differently” — but I’ve been realizing lately that it all has a use. And I believe fervently that art must be useful, even if it’s not immediately apparent how.

  • Lina

    Thanks for giving us your best Sarah:) I am moved by your blog posts, and learn a lot from you. I heard this song on the radio yesterday I just had to share http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0-HLG7Dxec&feature=share.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

    Beautifully said. And I’ve also found that indulging in my writing is never a waste even if I can’t “use” something I’ve written for publication. The act of writing in and of itself has value and at the very least makes me a better writer for tomorrow.

  • http://ashleighbaker.net/ Ashleigh Baker

    Pour it out and don’t hold back. A good word, that.

  • Alia_Joy

    Thank you! I have wondered this when I look at posts and I see lines of words strung together and my analytics showed so few page views and I wonder if I wasted it but I figure I have nowhere else to spend them. Thanks for taking away the second guessing of where to invest my words even in relative obscurity.

  • Ashlee

    Thank you for this, Sarah. I can’t tell you how many times I have attempted to “save” my writing, only to not even use it at all. I pitched a story around to a couple of online publications last year and it never got picked up. Guess where it is now? Sitting on my computer, hidden, unread, wasted.

    Similarly, I analyze that “publish” button all too often, and sometimes just hit delete after an hour of writing.

    I love this post, I love your heart, and I love that you share so generously. Thank you!

  • http://ear-sword-miracle.blogspot.com/ Miles O’Neal

    This needs to go viral. I just did my part. Thank you.

  • Shannon Coe

    I was doing this!! I saved a post in my heart for months. I wrote it out and gave it away to another site. It felt like a love offering. I am a hoarder/saver in many areas of my life and i just realized I am the same with words and stories. thank you for this!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=187703119 Christine Kindberg

    This ministers to me so much! Especially: “I believe the freedom to create…is in direct connection to our trust in God’s provision. Do we believe, even in our art, that he is the giver of all good gifts…?” This Lent I’m focusing on generosity and trusting God to provide, and your post feels like direct encouragement. Thank you!

  • Keri Misawa

    This was beautiful and just what I’ve been needing to hear. Thank you for sharing your art!

  • Blaire McDaniel

    Thank you so much Sarah, I am inexperienced enough at this whole life thing that I often write “by the seat of my pants”. As it is, one day I will surely face the battle to hoard my thoughts (among other things) to save for the perfect moment. I love that you lay it all on the line daily; you inspire me to do the same, not just in my writing, but in all things. Give it, give it all, give it now…. words to apply to all areas of life. Eschet Chayil, beautiful woman.

  • http://InkyJazz.com/ Bridget

    Every now and then I come across an idea that I want to emblazon in large red letters across my soul. This is one of them. Thank you, thank you, for using your manna for today. I know it blessed me.

  • http://www.leahcolbeck.com/ Leah Colbeck

    I loved this post. I’ve been thinking since I read it that this is applicable to so many areas.

  • janetb1

    Also could be said of encouragement and love…just do it :) Thanks for sharing this. Love it!

  • Lauren Francis

    Wow. This was just what I needed to read today. I feel like there is always a constant fear that I will run out of things to say or run out of ideas…but there is ALWAYS another. Never thought of that fact as a gift from God – but am absolutely inspired to now! Thank you, thank you!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/tiffanylstuart Tiffany Stuart

    You are speaking to my heart. Thank you for truth that transforms. xo

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  • Stephanie

    THANK YOU, Sarah Bessey. I so needed to read this today.

    You and I are very alike sometimes.

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  • brenwrites

    Wow. Thank you for writing and for sharing this. It articulates and answers all about me as a non-writing writer. Thank you for quite possibly being the spark that finallly raises me out of stupor to printed creation. God bless!!

  • Marcy

    I jumped right on out of my comfort zone on Friday and said NO to saving my thoughts and ideas “for a worthy time and a worthy place.” In one teensy step of registering with wordpress, the turbulance in my soul calmed. Thank you for sharing your best words and ideas!

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  • http://twitter.com/MelissaBeaver Melissa

    Sweet like honey for my soul.

  • http://twitter.com/BipolarMomLife Bipolar Mom

    I needed this right now. Thank you.

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  • Sarah Torna Roberts

    Hi Sarah, I’m a Sarah too. :-) I came to your site today and searched for “obscurity” because I remembered that at one point you had written a post about writing in obscurity for x number of years. I know it’a dangerous game to play, that no two journeys are meant to plod along identically, but today I’m struggling along my own journey. I’ve been so optimistic, happily putting in my time and working at it, finding my voice and all that. Almost 6 years ago, I started my own little blog, just for family and friends, to chronicle our family adventures. I was startled at the feedback I got… the encouraging of that little writing thing I’d been doing since I was six years old. After some time, it began to matter so much to me and I ached to really do it, but I thought I couldn’t. Not while I had all these little babies, special needs, no money for help, etc. So I quit, telling God this wasn’t the “season”. I lasted 18 months (and was properly miserable every step of the way). It’s been two years since I laid it all down and admitted to God that I needed to try. I’ve written nearly every single day. And today, I’m feeling discouraged. I know it should be enough to write, and in so many ways, it IS! I’d do it even with this discouragement pounding down my door. But is it wrong to want more? To have readers who push me to write better and better? To wonder what that document that looks suspiciously like a manuscript on my laptop might become if I had the “platform” to find out? I’m frustrated today, filled with doubt…. and your post is making me cry. Because I want that ending. Desperately. I want the freedom to just do it, to find that community, to have opportunities to contribute, the book deal. And as much as your story scares me, it also reminds me that someone else felt this way, and there was no scarcity of grace and community and fortune for her. So, I’ll keep on. Of course I will, right? No other choice. All that to say, thank you for writing this so I could come back to it on the first day I’ve really needed something just like this to scare me enough to keep going… to hope that there is room for me too. Bless you.

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