For those of us who love words, we’re drawn to the clack of the keyboard and the parsing of meaning on the page. We feel alive as we wrangle words into sentences; some of us even feel closer to God as we work out our faith by writing about it. Time spent writing feels important, even holy.
But for many of us, running parallel with our love of writing is the desire to get published. This desire can be fueled by the culture at large, which says our writing only matters if our readership is huge and our byline well known. Publication is commonly assumed to be the goal of the writing life, and seeing our words in print the truest form of validation for our work.
As an author and teacher of writing, I often have conversations with other writers fixated on publication. They’re desperate to see their work published somewhere. They want to know how to start a writing career, or how to get the inside scoop on writing for a top magazine.
In response to their questions, I have to ask: Do you want to be published? Or do you want to write?
These aren’t the same question, although many of us confuse one for the other. For as much as writing is tethered to publishing, getting published doesn’t make a writer. Writing makes a writer.
Starving for Validation
From my experience, the aching desire writers have to see their words published has less to do with writing and more to do with unresolved issues of worth and purpose in their season of life—often one that feels less than satisfying. Why? Because when what we’re called to do is quiet and unseen—perhaps a season of parenting or a season of faithfulness at an uninspiring job—writing can seem like a quick ticket out of the mundane. We think that maybe—just maybe—if we could get the right publication to accept us, or if we could get the right editor to give us a chance, then perhaps we’d feel some validation, even if our daily lives seem boring.
But getting published won’t fulfill your longing for validation. Fame won’t fill the gap. As someone who’s writing and publishing regularly, I’ve found publication isn’t what keeps my heart and soul alive—if anything, getting published will actually have the opposite effect on a soul seeking renown. Instead, I’ve had to return to the ultimate purpose of writing, asking the bigger question of why writing exists at all. And as with all things under God’s dominion, the purpose of writing is bigger than I can comprehend. It’s much, much bigger than getting published.
The purpose of writing is worship (1 Cor. 10:31).
This is why the question we must return to as writers, over and over again, doesn’t regard publication or platform. Instead, the question we must ask is: Am I worshiping God in my work as a writer?
This is not a trite question, nor a cop-out. It’s not a way to ignore the very real questions of publishing. But it must be the starting place for any work the Christian writer does.
Worship is an inherently foolish act to an unbelieving world. It makes us no money, and garners us no praise. In fact, to write as an act of worship means deflecting all praise and attention to God.
This is how we overcome the temptation to find our worth in publication instead of in Christ. We pursue satisfaction in writing for Christ alone. For if our writing is an act of worship—writing to him, writing about him, writing with him—then it doesn’t ultimately matter if anyone else reads those words. If our essays and stories and articles bring joy and praise to the King of the world, and if they point our own hearts toward his goodness and his worthiness, then those words have accomplished the central purpose they were made to fulfill: worship. If his eyes are the only eyes that read the words we’ve written—but if they honor and glorify him—then we’ve written well and wonderfully in heaven’s sight.
Now, this perspective doesn’t mean we should forsake publication when the opportunity arises; it doesn’t mean we must write as hermits away from the world. What it does mean, though, is that if we submit a piece for publication, we aren’t doing so because we’re clawing at validation. Instead, we write from a place of security in Christ (1 John 3:1), trusting God to do his will in our work as we’re obedient to him.
Any opportunity to write for an audience outside of the Trinity is secondary—a gift but never an expectation. If the Lord does give us a platform where our words reach twenties, or hundreds, or thousands, or millions, the purpose of the writing remains the same. Whether through novels that display God’s goodness, books that clarify his character, articles that point to his truth, or poems that declare his presence, the purpose is always glory for him.
Writers, we must ask the Lord to search us and help us discern why we crave publication (Ps. 139:23–24). Chasing the desire to see our byline in ink will only leave us frustrated, self-absorbed, and exhausted. But if we seek to worship Christ and commune with him in our writing, we will be freed to do what we really want: find true purpose and worth in our work. And the good news is that the purpose isn’t in our name, but in his. Our worth isn’t in how others react to us, but in how they react to Jesus. The goal isn’t making ourselves famous, but lifting up the name of Christ.
So, do we want to be published? Or do we want to write?
In all things, we want to worship.
Editors’ note: If you’re a Christian writer who wants to intentionally grow in your writing while keeping Christ at the center of your work, join us at www.WritingwithGrace.com
Writing with Grace is a live, online, six-week course for writers of faith who wish to grow in their craft, voice, and ability. After teaching writing courses at Wheaton College for half of a decade, Ann Swindell decided to offer the same power-packed material in an online format, and to partner it with helpful insights about the publishing industry. Students in the Writing with Grace course learn high-level writing techniques and tools, are given optional reading and writing assignments, and join an online community of other writers in a private Facebook group. They also have access to live Q&A sessions with the editors of national publications and can watch the recordings of class on their own schedule.