This summer I had the unique challenge of finding the right keys for some of my articles. Ideas weren’t becoming viable. Revision was long and laborious. And the structure for this blog post didn’t coalesce until I discovered I had two themes—and needed to choose one.
I wanted to be like the caretaker who walked down the school hallway, the keys to each room jangling on his belt. In the quietness before students arrived, his keys tinkled as he chose one to open a classroom door. Then his footsteps echoed across the hallway and, jiggling the key ring, he chose another…and then another…
Then two days ago when I reviewed my journal, I discovered that over the days and weeks, God had been giving me keys, visible symbols that He was with me--scriptures, quotes from devotional writers, and thoughts from studying the book of Exodus.
In my journal, I had written quotes from Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write, a source I sometimes turn to when needing gentle advice:
If good ideas do not come…do not be troubled at all. Wait for them. Put down what little ideas however insignificant….With every sentence you write, you have learned something. It has done you good. It has stretched your thinking.
…just what I needed to hear. What we all need to hear when the going gets tough.
Then came thoughts about the Spirit’s inspiration. Often when planning an article, a spark of illumination indicates, “This is a good idea!” I think of a story. A general outline takes shape, and then the writing begins. But for several articles in the last months, this wasn’t happening. I just needed to write down “little ideas however insignificant” and allow the Holy Spirit room to develop ideas as I went along.
When words fail, don’t force the key or try to push open what may feel like a heavy castle door. The Spirit holds the keys. He will let you know that He is working behind the scenes, and in time He will open the door for you.
Like lawyers, we can call up a persuasive precedent to strengthen our case. I remember a time when I couldn’t sort through my income tax form. In tears I set it aside, thinking I’d need a professional to finish it. Yet I returned to it several days later, my mind refreshed, and completed it within thirty minutes. Remembering what God has done will confirm that He can do it again. It will strengthen you for your current challenge.
I prayed through the process and asked a friend to pray for me. One morning I drove over to our neighbourhood Tim Horton’s to outline points to finish an article (deadline that evening, with much still to be done). When I finished, God brought to mind a promise: “Now you will see what I will do” (Exodus 6:1). I went home, finished the article, and submitted it hours before the deadline.
There came a time when I knew that two article ideas weren’t workable. Successful writers have admitted to days of non-productive writing, and they sometimes need to throw out their drafts. I recalled Annie Dillard’s astute observation:
In every work, there’s an inherent impossibility…some intrinsic reason why this will never be able to proceed…Often the way around it is to throw out, painfully, the one idea you started with.
Don’t throw your unused drafts in the wastebasket, but keep them on file, assuming that one day you can resurrect them in another form.
I wondered: could it be that when our creative uncertainty looms, God is teaching us something that we haven’t yet discovered? Could it be that He is preparing us for a greater ministry? If your vision isn’t working now, stay with it. “Keep your eyes on your goal, and just keep taking the next steps towards completing it”, John Cormack, a video game developer, said.
The willingness to do the work, day after day, will make a difference. Write in faith, hope, and trust. And through it all, be thankful. Some day you’ll look back and see more clearly how the Lord has been with you, guiding you, enlarging your vision and ministry to those who need to hear what God is communicating through you.
Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write, (Minneapolis: Greywolf, 1938, 1987, 28, 14).
Annie Dillard, Introduction: “Notes for Young Writers.” In Lee Gutkind, Editor, In fact: The best of Creative Nonfiction, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005, xvi-xvii).