Guest blog by Stephanie Grace Whitson
I met Stephanie Whitson years ago, at a writers’ retreat. The first thing I noticed about her was her smile–she has one of the kindest, most gentle smiles I’ve ever seen. But what I struck me most about this woman is her wisdom. Stephanie knows the ebb and flow of being a writer, and through it all, she’s exhibited a gracious spirit and a deep wisdom based on God’s truth and call. When she wrote the following recently in an email during a discussion on “success” as a writer, I was so struck by what she wrote that I asked if she’d be willing to share it here, with you. May you be as blessed—and challenged–by it as I was.
Writing is the oddest profession in the universe. Why? Because whether or not I get to keep doing it (in the traditional, royalty-paying part of the world I inhabit) has nothing to do with whether or not I’m good at it. Why? Because the one thing that reigns over my career is sales numbers, and I can’t affect sales enough to impress publishers (i.e., by the tens of thousands). I can build relationships and e-mail newsletters and conference and Facebook and Twitter and blog and teach my little heart out and still hear the words, “We love you. We love your work, but the sales just aren’t good enough. Goodbye.” The truth is, over a writing life that spans nearly twenty years of published Christian fiction and non-fiction, I’ve heard those words more than once.
A close writing friend of mine recently raised the topic of God “thwarting” a writer’s success. Assuming the writer is doing all he or she can to hone their craft, assuming their work ethic is excellent, assuming they are doing all they can … would God still thwart a writer’s success? Well … yes. I think He would. I think He does, because I think God operates with a different dictionary. I think He defines terms in ways I don’t always understand. For example, that word success.
I see success in terms of contracts and sales and best-seller lists and awards and fan letters. Does God? In his recent novel, I Saul, author Jerry Jenkins reminds readers that the apostle Paul spent a lot of years in a hole in the ground. In Paul’s day, a successful public speaker was the guy appearing nightly in the amphitheater. Was Paul a failure? Absolutely not. See what I mean? Different definitions.
Just as God reigned over Paul’s first-century life, so does He reign over mine—including my sales numbers. Could it be that my sales numbers are only one of the tools God uses to move me where He wants me for this season—and then on to the next place in the next season? I have decided to believe that He takes me to readers and editors who need something in what I write, and when He’s delivered it to them, He uses my sales numbers to move me to a new place; not because I have failed, but because I must be in a different place for a particular book to reach a particular reader.
Don’t get me wrong. Even though I believe what I have just written with every part of me, living in light of it is difficult. I still long for success as defined by Merriam Webster (and reviewers and award-givers). However, when I put my hand in the hand of the One who knows … who allows … who plans … who permits … well, then I pray for acceptance of the road He’s guiding me along. I strive to define success in a different way. To see things through His eyes.
And I tremble, because I am weak.