May 26, 2013

Excellence in the Message - Bonnie Way

I spent Friday night at a literary soiree at the second annual Write! Vancouver conference. To kick off the soiree, Marc Cote, publisher of Cormorant Books, and John Stackhouse, professor at Regent College, discussed what excellence means for a Christian writer.  Most of us can point to excellent Christian writers of past centuries (Tyndall and Shakespeare were mentioned), but what does excellence mean to each of us in the message God has called us to tell?

John and Marc began by discussing excellence versus humility.  As Christian writers, we are called to both--excellence does not mean arrogance and humility does not mean that we don't strive to be our best.  Humility is an understanding of where you are in the scheme of things; even if God has blessed you with the gift of words, you need to work hard to honour that gift and to write as best you can.

Of course, excellence does not mean success.  Dan Brown's name came up frequently during the evening as a writer who is successful but not excellent.  Our pursuit of excellence may mean that we achieve excellence but not success.  Yet as Christians, we answer to God and not to man; God's definition of "success" is not the same as man's.

Nor does excellence mean that we will get noticed.  We must be true to our calling, single-minded in our pursuit of art.  Marc pointed out that if you chase the market, you will never catch up--at best, you will write what is popular today and by the time it gets published, it will be two years old.  If you follow your vision, you'll always be on time with what's inside your heart and mind--or with the message God is calling you to write.  In fact, often what gets noticed in not excellence, as in the Dan Brown case.

What is excellence?  It needs to be a function of your calling, your vocation, your message.  Marc asked how you will feel about your work once it is past revision--when your book has been published and you can't change it anymore, will you still like it?  Or will you regret not working harder on it?  However, the pursuit of excellence can also be paralyzing--a writer may never publish their book because they can always revise it.  Thus John challenged writers to be able to stand before God and say, "At this season of my life, about that message, that was the best way I could say it."

Writers are often admired for the belief in the Divine speaking through chosen people.  All creative people recognize that creativity is a gift, that moments of inspiration happen when we least expect.  At the same time, we have an obligation to carve out the time to write and to put our best effort into those moments of inspiration.  Inspiration does not equal excellence.

John challenged us to perform as we practice.  Whatever we write--long or short--should be excellent.  Don't use the excuse "it's just a tweet" or "it's just a blog post" to write something that is not excellent.  He has a small, target audience in mind as he's writing and, after writing each chapter, asks himself, "Did I reach my audience?  Did I speak excellence for them?"  For the writer, it's also important to read well; great writers learn from other great writers.

The panel was an inspiring and encouraging way to kick off the Write! Vancouver conference.  I felt challenged by John's and Marc's words to push myself further in my writing and to make sure I write what is excellent, not what is "good enough."  Their discussion remained in the minds of many writers on Saturday, as we frequently came back to the question of excellent in writing during other workshops.  And so I challenge you too, as a Christian writer, whatever the message God has given you to tell, tell it with excellence.


  1. Bonnie, thanks for sharing. Ironically, I had just finished reading a book review for a new book (Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, edited by Jocelyn Glei) on creativity before I read your post. There was a quote by Aristotle included in the review, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."

  2. Interesting to make the distinction between excellence and success.


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