Today is all about hearts-- disappointment, triumph, and keeping perspective in it all.
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What we don't talk about nearly as frequently is the condition of our writers' hearts. Which is unfortunate, because if you're human, and you're a writer, you're going to have a struggle-of-the-heart at one point or another. And more than likely, this struggle will happen daily.
Our poor writers' hearts are constantly being bombarded, and it's usually with disappointment. Maybe you were really hoping to final in a contest (*ahem*), and you didn't make the cut. Or maybe your dream editor has been looking at your heart story, and rejected it without any feedback. Or maybe you're just plain discouraged. Maybe you've been doing this a long time, and . . . well, you feel like you've had to give up investing your heart in your stories just to survive the struggles of the publishing journey.
This past week, I stumbled upon an audio recording by Robin Jones Gunn from a writing workshop she taught in Africa. You can find it here in her online store. It's a steal at only a few dollars, and I can't recommend this recording enough.
In this workshop, Robin uses Psalm 51:10 as the cornerstone of her teaching: "Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me."
Now, we've all heard that verse before--probably hundreds of times. But have we ever really allowed it to sink in to our hearts as writers?
Robin uses the illustration of our stories being like a cup of water that is offered to readers, and really, to God. At first, that cup of cold water sounds really appealing--especially if you're in a parched place in life. But imagine tossing in just a few grains of dirt and sand. Maybe a little pepper and spice. Suddenly, the glass of water doesn't seem so appealing any longer. Even if there's only a little dirt inside, who wants to drink that?
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So let me ask you again. Are you keeping a healthy heart?
Or have you allowed bitter things to take refuge inside?
See, when things happen to us that seem to justify our response, this whole process gets really hard. Because sometimes people really do hurt us. Sometimes they really do let us down, in a big way. And it's easy to feel like we have a right to be mad.
If we're not careful, we begin to compare ourselves to others. Maybe we envy them. Or maybe we think they took our spot in the next-to-be-published line.
Or perhaps it's not an actual person who threatens your dream as a writer. Maybe it's the seemingly- elusive goal of being a bestseller. Or maybe it's a family member or friend who has hurt you and let you down, weakening your resolve to keep writing.
After a while of responding these sorts of challenges, a couple things happen. Either we just begin to give up, or we keep going-- harboring in our hearts little bits of frustration, disappointment, and bitterness we've picked up along the way. So we begin to write with a little bit of dirt in the water, muddying the message God has given us.
But God has called us to so much more.
Romans 2 says we have no right to give these sorts of things free living space in our hearts, because God has forgiven each of us for so much more. Just as the Biblical debtor who was forgiven, then went out and collected the smallest of debts for his own gain, we so often forget the vastness of God's grace in our lives. We are not our own measuring stick. Grace is the measuring stick. And thank God for that.
God has given you a story that only you can tell. If you get so caught up in contests and rejection letters and the comparison game that you forget to listen to the voice of God, the world will lose out.
Your future readers will lose out. Because no one else can tell your story.
So if you find yourself in a position where the water of your heart is a bit murky, or perhaps all-out mud --and really, aren't we all in that position?-- the remedy is simple. Pray. Ask God to create in you a clean heart. Ask Him again and again every time you begin to write. Because the ministry of writing is a mighty calling. And readers deserve nothing short of the whole, beautiful story God has put in your heart.
Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.