Faith Today senior editor Bill Fledderus was a keynote speaker at the recent Write Canada conference held in Toronto. In this excerpt from his speech, he offers advice to writers on the importance of practice and how Christians measure success.
Practice, of course, is another way to develop your writing gifts. Maybe the challenge for you is to consider becoming more disciplined about writing practice.
I wonder if you have heard of the author Malcolm Gladwell? He’s an essayist, a Canadian who writes for the magazine The New Yorker.
He has written five bestsellers reflecting on research in the social sciences, including a book called Outliers where he popularized the 10,000-hours theory. That’s the theory that 10,000 hours are needed to develop expertise and success in a specific skill – about 20 hours of work a week for 10 years, or full-time work for five years.
In his book Gladwell uses examples such as the Beatles, who performed that much in Hamburg, Germany, in the early 1960s, and of Bill Gates, who spent at least 10,000 hours programming computers starting at age 13.
The theory here is that, just like a musician or an athlete needs to practise, so too should a writer. It’s kind of depressing if you think that writing even, say, two hours every weekday would take you 20 years to become a master.
But the numbers are highly debatable, and certainly not a guaranteed formula that applies to everyone. What they illustrate, the importance of regular practice, is a reminder all of us can use.
In the writing classes I teach at Redeemer University College, it’s one of the first things I emphasize, that writing students need to set aside specific times in their schedule each week to write – and stick to them, even when they don’t feel like it or have other pressures on their time.
So, how’s your writing schedule? Are you able to block off regular time? Are you able to negotiate with the people you live with so they accept certain times as ones when you are unavailable?
Finally, whatever your writing gift, remember to always thank God for it. One of my favourite Bible verses is 2 Corinthians 4:7: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
Even as you keep developing your gift, your writing may never be a priceless ceramic Ming vase. Maybe it will just be a clay pot, something that looks more like a failed art assignment by a Grade Two student.
But do you think there is anything so bad that God can’t use it?
Think of all the failures in the Bible whom God used, people like King David who committed adultery and murder. Like Jonah – God called him to deliver important words to a particular audience, the people of Ninevah, but he fled instead, just like the steward of the Matthew 25 parable who buried his gold. Or Peter, who denied Jesus three times.
As Christians, we know God has promised to reward even a leaky clay cup of cold water given in an attempt to live Christianly. Some of that reward might come in this life, but we can rest assured of it upon Christ’s return.
So ultimately we don’t write, or we shouldn’t write, because we think we are great or because we want other people to think we are successful stewards. We aren’t trying to get onto some list of writers on Wikipedia or the Guinness Book of World Records or win some particular literary award. We are trying to remember to honour the one who gives us all good things, including our writing gifts, by unwrapping those gifts and using them well.
It’s easy to feel jealous as a writer or that our own work is not valuable in comparison to that of others. But remember the Matthew 25 parable of the stewards, remember how they are given different amounts to start “according to ability,” but the response of their master, when he returns and rewards them, is exactly the same for both the five-talent steward and the two-talent steward.
The Word Guild or the mainstream publishing industry world may give prizes to some of us and not others, but as Christians we know that the master’s response is really all that matters.
So develop your gift to the best of your unique ability. And write so our heavenly Father will say, “Well done,” as the master says in Matthew 25. Or maybe we can edit that to read, “Well said, well written.”
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