by Tineke Bryson, Staff
“Do you want to be published?”
I have never answered this with a straightforward Yes.
Our hesitancy to name ourselves as writers and talk openly about our creative goals is usually attributed to lack of confidence.
But, for me, it’s about wanting to keep my disappointment with myself private. Because the thing about admitting I’m a writer is that then anyone can Google my name or ask to see my work and find out just how badly I am failing at it. (And you thought noms de plumes were only adopted by people with a fondness for flair.)
It’s like being followed by a balloon. Everywhere. By one of those black balloons made specially for The Big 4-0. Only inscribed with “I want to be published, but I’m not.”
Being tailed by such a balloon is self-serving, of course, since it saves me breath. But it’s also disconcerting.
I am too proud to be that transparent about my dreams.
“This balloon? No, it’s not mine. I don’t know where it came from.”
When I was a writing major in college, I sat in critique circles with more mediocre writers of astonishing confidence than I ever want to meet again. I’m one of those people who just can’t handle watching others embarrass themselves. When I watch comedies like Mr. Bean, or even page through an Amelia Bedelia picture book, all I can think is, I pity your mother.
Why doesn’t someone tell them? I’d agonize, reading the excerpts in front of me. Why doesn’t someone break it to them that their gift is for a smaller sphere? But I didn’t want to be the “mean critiquer” so I just smiled and said, “This is great.” I just left them to be disillusioned later, after having spent all their college money. I am nice like that.
I’ve never forgotten what my dad said once, when I was a kid, about a disillusioned friend who “never made it big,” despite all his musical talent. “He doesn’t see that his gift might have never been meant for that. Maybe his musical gift is for a smaller stage. Does that make it less wonderful? I wish he would set himself free.”
Since then, it has been my life ambition not to set myself up too high. To be happy transforming my own sphere, my small stage. To accept that there are many ways to be successful.
But, deep down, I am haunted by my creative abilities. Haunted by the question, “Could I do more, if I were only brave enough to take bigger creative risks?”
I don’t want to die never having written the story that hides inside me (published or not). I don’t want to die having only attempted things I was sure of being successful at.
There’s narcissism to this. The idea that the world would be impoverished if I never graced it with my eloquence.
But underneath the narcissism is something else. I hate being vulnerable. I hate caring. I don’t want to be ordinary (read: weak).
There’s a saying that “God does not require excellence; he requires faithfulness.” But I am not satisfied with being faithful. I want to be the best.
Daniel Schwabauer—Mr. S. to many of you—is known for his question “If you had to choose between writing a bestseller that would be read by millions and promptly forgotten and writing a novel read only by one person, but remembered and appreciated forever, what would you choose?
I’d pick the second one, because, well, I would die of shame if no one cared about what I wrote (and, you know, it’s clearly the “right” answer). “But what if the one person were you?” asks Daniel.
Harumph. You had to go there.
What if the “grand purpose” of my gift is about me?
About God and me, sticking it out?
The last few years have been tough for me. I’ve wrestled with new physical limitations, subcultures that drive me crazy, and disillusionment with most of the causes that once enflamed me with zeal. I’ve sometimes felt like my faith might not make it. Not surprisingly, my creativity has suffered.
It’s felt like I am tethered, not to a mere balloon, but a humungous blimp. Proclaiming my failure to the world.
But these tough years have given me one special thing: the revelation that the whole point of giving me the ability to write was not for other people. Not for you, or for anyone. It was for me. It was to make sure I would have a sure-fire way to reach him.
If something I write helps someone else, that is wonderful, most wonderful. But that is not the purpose of the gift. In a sense, there is no purpose. It’s not a means to an end. It’s a gift. A worship-opening.
I found this out by writing again. Miles into my struggles, I started writing again. And as soon as I did, something happened that has not happened in (what feels, anyway, like) years and years: Worship. Connection. My spirit actually moved.
The reason I noticed the worship was that it had been such a long time.
Sitting in worship services, singing worship songs, listening to worship pieces. And feeling next to nothing happen.
Until I wrote. And my spirit moved.
In an instant, I understood. This was why I have the ability and need to write. Because it’s the only sorrow-and-cynicism-and-anger-and-disillusionment-proof way of connecting me to the Three-in-One-Persons who loves me. It’s the way I dig for my most honest questions. It’s the safety valve. The lifeboat. It’s how I heal.
The story hiding inside me needs to come out. But not for the world’s benefit. The story needs to be told to me. To change me. To teach me.
This is enough. And, of course, it’s exactly why you might like to read it too. Because it’s not for show.
It’s time for a trip to the florist for some more balloons. Custom balloons for the special occasion of my existence.
I think I’ll have them say:
Writing my story is how I grow.
Writing is a gift to bless me, not torment me.
Writing is a worship-opening and I am widening that hole.
What would you write on your balloon if you could order one?
“Writing a book is work for me,” I noted in my 1st-grade journal, and it’s still true. Writing has always been something I’ve both loved and dreaded—it takes the best I have to offer and then stands there asking for more. But as I am growing to appreciate, this is because it’s the most important effort of my life—it’s the way God made me to worship him. And what does that look like? Most of the time it looks like digging. Slaving away under the hot sun of pain to unearth the most honest questions I have so I can present them to him as my offering.
Before working for Daniel and Carrol Schwabauer, I studied creative non-fiction at Houghton College and then worked as an editor. Taking The One Year Adventure Novel class live last year gave me a lot of reasons to now try my hand at writing fiction.