4 Things to do While You Are Waiting for Your Platform to Grow...
We’ve seen it dozens of times, right?
A Christian writer, teacher, or musician finally gets the platform he or she has been working toward for years. Success! Big book contract. Big speaking or music tour. Face on the cover of some evangelical magazine.
Then everything crashes.
Boom, what a mess! An affair is exposed. Performance anxiety has caused creative paralysis. Depression has led to thoughts of suicide. Irreversible damage has been done by substance abuse. Orthodoxy morphs into a theological disaster.
All the good that was done by this creator is suddenly undone. Brokenhearted fans who had hoped they had finally “found someone they could trust this time” realize they’ve just been shammed again.
But they haven’t been shammed; they’ve only experienced a leader who wasn’t ready for the massive pressures of publicity. And let's face it, who is ever ready for that?
I hear so many people talking about how writing is hard, but it isn’t. Writing is cake. Writing is really nothing more than observation, flirtation, courage, and economy. That’s it. Those four things stirred into two cups of tenacity, and pow.
Sure, we might spend 80 hours working those four traits into six paragraphs, but is the investment of large chunks of time in a world where people are beheaded for their faith really difficulty? Concern over the investment of time is a first world problem.
And what if we lose sleep over a chapter, or spend an entire week working an argument ten different ways, or spend five years finding the best angle from which to narrate a plot? Is this hardship? Of course not. It's a luxury. Reworking art until it's perfect is a first world problem.
What if the honesty of writing is uncomfortable? Even then we live in a land of liberty where freedom of speech is guaranteed. Men and women die overseas because they have proclaimed the same gospel we whine about having to set our alarms at 4:00 AM every morning to describe. We whine because we are not wanting to wake up so very early in our safe, warm houses, even though we will have a hot mug of coffee beside us.
We whine even though the whole reason we are waking up early is because our gorgeous children are sleeping in at that dark hour in their cozy beds, children who will fill our homes with laughter and conversation, children who will have food, health care, and education available to them for as far in the future as we can now imagine.
Or we set the alarm early to write because we are literate, healthy, young, and strong enough to work two jobs. But managing strength, ability, freedom, faith, family, and flexibility is managing abundance. Juggling blessings is a first world problem.
It doesn't take too long looking around the world to realize that writing is not true hardship, and it's rarely deep sacrifice. In America, we are likely to get paid for it. We are likely to get praised for it. This is a regular occupation at its hardest, and it is complex play at its easiest.
We writers can act like the costs of writing are more noble than they are, but what’s difficult ... truly difficult... is living in such a way that our writing counts. That's what we see so few people doing these days."
So if you are a creative person (a writer of books, songs, performance material, etc.) who is still in that sweet spot between admitting your calling and being called by your calling by others, I have a few thoughts for you.
1. Live on the same trajectory you want to chase for eternity.
One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. (Says Luke 16:10)
Most of the problems famous creators experience were planted as seeds in their obscurity. Just think about what happens to small sins in the pressure cooker of fame... every flaw is magnified on stage. Every impulse to medicate is exacerbated.
That means these years when we know what we are supposed to do, but we are just beginning to walk toward it, are ideal for opening our hearts to God’s complete renovation. Just like it’s better for a ten-year-old to learn consequences of stealing than it is for a 21-year-old or a 45-year-old, it’s better for people like you and me to deal with our junk before all the lights are on us.
I don’t know when I’ve ever been more convicted of deep escapist tendencies in my heart than I have been in the past five years (or so) of starting to take my writing more seriously. I’ve been horrified by what God has uncovered ... and by some embarrassing means. I see how I've been indulgent. I've been selfish. I've been duplicitous.
But I thank God, too, that He didn’t let me be in a position of great influence while those weaknesses were being exposed. Yes, there would be grace for me -- but I could have hurt so many people if all those tendencies had been magnified by the pressures of fame, then hit the skids before millions of people. That would have broken my heart and many others besides.
So I say no, let the breaking happen now. Let it happen when my voice is small. Please, God. Now. And if You grow me, grow me after You have either removed what might cause harm or made me aware of my inadequacies like Paul was aware of his thorn. Let grace abound and not excuses or hiding.
2. Choose now whom you will serve.
14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15)
As your platform grows, there will be pressure, of course, to present a marketable persona. This is just an inevitable part of companies trying to sell books and records in a cutthroat financial world. Even Christian companies must make a profit or else there will be no money to make new materials, and so those businesses are not being unethical to find ways to stay afloat.
But as creators, we need to be careful about letting the principles of a successful business become our idols.
The day I found out a major Christian industry was owned by a porn mogul, I lost all desire to climb ladders in the creative world. It was strange how that news fell inside me. I felt physically sick at my stomach.
Women – wives and young girls - are being abused right now, marriages are breaking apart, because Christian money is filtering through a business system of sincere creators who are trying to lead people to faith while supporting a man who is using women like meat. We are helping our own enemies defeat our own brothers and sisters.
I would rather write unpaid, little-known posts for 700 Facebook friends the rest of my life than get involved with that.
I would rather bust my butt waiting tables and write exhausted into the wee hours of the morning than get involved with that.
I would rather have three little old ladies and two teenage girls like my posts than get involved with that.
It was a hard, sad discovery to look behind the wizard's curtain, and I'm still a little bit mad about what I saw. (Can you tell?)
But at the same time, how freeing it was to get to this point of liberty as a creator! How freeing it is now to pour water on the altar of worldly success, and leap into the arms of a living God, and say, “You can light this baby if you want it to burn. What I want is whatever brings You glory and delight. What I want is for YOU to dance with me!”
Because how could the heaps of stone and grass this world has to offer, or the withering names it gives its heroes, begin to touch on the sweetness of a creative union so intimate? Why would I want last month's or next month's dangling literary carrot when I am safe and adored this very moment in the arms of my King?
3. Love your readers.
I don’t care who they are or how simple they might seem to you right now. Five people. Twenty. Three fishermen and a tax collector. Love them specifically. Listen to them. Ache with them. Advocate for them. Preach the gospel to them.
Remember this passage from Luke 10:2?
“And he said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”
Do your realize that means you have been earnestly prayed for as a creator? The work of your hands. The songs you write. The essays you create. Jesus was thinking about you way back then, asking His people to ask God for you!
For 2000 years, believers have been asking God to provide voices to cry out into a lonely world. They have asked Him for you to show up, and now you are here -- at just the right time while the fields are white!
So what is your field? Look around you and see. There are faces on the stalks of grains, and if you take a moment to stare, you will find that you know their names and their stories.
4. Hone your craft.
23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
After God created the world, He hovered over it and said that it was good. He didn’t say popular -- there wasn’t any human audience yet. He reveled in the quality of His own labor.
And the quality of your work is honoring to God, too. He cares about your creative growth.
Now depending on the safety of your past creative experiences, that thought might be a little scary for you, so let me see if an illustration will help.
In the storytelling performance world, we say that the audience helps create a story. What we mean is that there is a living exchange between a creator and his/her listeners. A responsive crowd can bring such energy and joy to a telling. A lame audience can flatten the work.
You and I have the most gracious, giving reader/listener of all the Universe. He is our first hearer. He is our first responder. So whatever you create, create wholeheartedly for Him, with excitement, zeal, and with passion -- because what you make is an offering to a God who is waiting to listen to you!
I don’t know specifically what growth will mean for you, because different writers have different strengths and weaknesses. If you don't know what yours are, I would recommend Dorothy Sayers’s chapter from the Mind of the Maker on "Scalene Trinities." She discusses how various creators can be idea heavy, energy heavy, or power heavy — and therefore out of balance.
For example, I’m "idea driven." I get eight billion thousand million ideas a day -- so many ideas that I could create pretty much all the time -- which means I get frustrated with editing. So (shameful face) I ... uh... skip that part.
About five or six of my detailed friends are kind enough to constantly private message me with type-o’s and dropped words that I’ve missed (which is why, if you follow me, you've already noticed that I have edited most of what I publish 25 times).
Once the flash of catching something beautiful is done, I’m ready to move to the next idea. I know good and well that grammar-oriented people will catch my mistakes, but I have a terrible tendency to not care what they think about my writing. (Haha. Sorry if that's you. Also, please join my editing team! Please!)
My tendency is to care with every ounce of passion that I have about IDEAS.
I tell you what -- I am DEVASTATED if I find that I have been wrong about an idea. That can put me into paralysis. I will sit in the floor and weep if I find out that I have been wrong in theology, judgment, or perceptions.
So two areas where I need to grow as a creator are in (1) patience with revision and in (2) discretion with what I publish. Those are steps I need to take, if I am really wanting to honor the Lord with the quality of my creations.
He will love me even if I don't grow -- but I want to grow, because I want to be more like Him. And I think He wants me to grow, because the process of change requires me to rely more and more upon Him. This means we will have sweeter fellowship and more intimacy as I develop in my art -- that's how a co-creative team works. And as progress is made, I think He will rejoice with me in our mutual accomplishments.
What about you? How do you need to grow?
Anyway, I hope at least some of this is helpful. There’s so much pressure on creators to be successful in all the wrong ways these days, and sometimes I just worry about you folks who are in the first stages of trying to figure out how to manage that.
It can feel desperate and hungry to get sucked into what is expected of us, but we don’t have to let the floodwaters carry us. We can make choices now that lead to rewarding creativity today. Tonight. Tomorrow. We can dance with our Creator, even as we learn to create.
Now, I’m going to actually put this on my blog and try to proofread it before I post it. Grin. Baby steps.
Soli Deo Gloria!