I read this today from Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection and it really hit home:
“Squandering our gifts brings distress to our lives. As it turns out, it’s not merely benign or ‘too bad’ if we don’t use the gifts we’ve been given; we pay for it with our emotional and physical well-being. When we don’t use our talents to cultivate meaningful work, we struggle. We feel disconnected and weighed down by feelings of emptiness, frustration, resentment, shame, disappointment, fear, and even grief…Sharing our gifts and talents with the world is the most powerful source of connection with God.”
Lately I have been struggling with how God is calling me to use my gifts. In the past few months I feel like I have been inundated with good, thought-provoking messages—from friends, books, conferences, and the Bible—that are all conspiring to stir things up within me and put me on a new path with my writing. But my worry is that maybe this new path is really just a mirage and a distraction, a shiny object that is ultimately keeping me from getting my real work done. I need to get over myself, stop thinking so much, grit my teeth and complete the novel I’m in the middle of writing is what I tell myself when my mind wanders to something new.
I sat down to write my novel today, and I felt no joy in it. I could not connect with the characters or care about the stupid decisions they are making so that the plot can move forward. It felt meaningless. And I’m all about doing meaningful work these days. I have no patience for spending time on creative work that does not feel authentic or feed my soul and spirit.
Writing is difficult. If you’re not feeling self-doubt, you’re probably not doing it right. But then sometimes self-doubt can be a tool and not just something to push past. Sometimes it’s right to question what you are doing as you are doing it and ask yourself: Is this the work I’m supposed to be doing? Does this project align with what’s important to me? Is it worthy of my time and energy? Or to quote Mary Oliver, is it the best way to spend my “one wild and precious life?”
There’s no guarantee that the work a writer does will ever make much money, if any at all. So that can’t be the reason for doing it. Ultimately the work has to be its own reward. And my novel is not feeling very rewarding. It feels shallow and meaning-less, rather than meaning-full.
Maybe the reason I’ve been struggling so much with this novel is because it is not what I am supposed to be writing right now?
What if I didn’t write it? I am able to make these choices after all. No one is holding a gun to my head and telling me I have to write this story. That’s the beauty of not having an agent or a contract with a publisher—lucky me!
Here’s what I think would happen if I decided to quit writing my novel:
- Nothing – which is fine, but could also be sad. If I kept writing it, and the novel were published then that would be fulfilling (I think), but it could also be a disappointment if I didn’t feel like it was that great of a novel. My mediocre work would be out there representing me, and I would have to spend a lot of my time promoting it and hustling to sell something that I may not feel that great about.
- I would feel shame and regret. I would always wonder what would have happened if I could have just finished the stupid thing and gotten on with my life. This is my main motivation for writing it right now, this feeling of I “should” do it because I want to avoid the feeling of failure that comes with quitting.
- I would have time to write the thing that I feel more passionate about, that I feel is a better fit for my gifts.
- I would feel free of the burden of doing something simply because I feel I “should.”
As I was writing this post the image of a divining rod kept popping into my head. I couldn’t remember exactly how these things work, so I looked it up. A divining rod is a forked branch that is used to find a water source. “Dowsing,” as this practice is called, dates back to medieval times. Scientist don’t put much stock in it, nevertheless, modern day companies still do it. According to a 2017 NPR article, most of the major water companies in the UK use a divining or “dowsing” rod to locate underground pipes. No one can prove whether dowsing rods lead folks to water, but no one can prove they don’t either.
I wish I had a writing divining rod, that I could hold over both projects to find out where the water is. I have a guess, but I don’t want to believe that giving up on a project is the right thing to do. And my guess might be wrong.
So I don’t know exactly what I should work on, but here’s what I do know:
- I want to write.
- I want to write work that is meaningful.
- I want to feel connected to God when I write.
Actually I think I do have a divining rod. I think writing is my divining rod…and God and prayer and reading and paying attention. I think this post is a form of dowsing, which is why that image kept coming up as I wrote.
I don’t have my answer yet, but here’s what I think is the next right thing: I will keep holding out my branch and seeing where it twitches and vibrates and go towards that. I’m not sure where that will lead, but I don’t think I need to know that yet.