Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

Pastor John, in a recent episode on writing, you said, “The actual process of writing is the most important portal by which new light shines into your mind on a topic.” Some friends of the ministry on Twitter pushed back on this statement and said that it may be a personality difference — for them, the process of new light on a topic comes most importantly from conversations they have with others. What do you say? Is that a personality difference? And does this response in any way change your original statement?”

One must be so careful. Yes. Now I am trying to think how to make this answer longer than 30 seconds.

They probably wouldn’t be satisfied with “Yes,” would they? I have no authority to tell someone else that starting to write will bring more insight for them than having a conversation with someone, okay? So to be completely accurate, I could have said the actual process of writing is, for me, the most important portal by which new light shines into your mind on a topic.

And as I thought about it, maybe there is another qualification I should have made; namely, I am assuming that every strategy of seeking new light on any topic is soaked in prayer for light so that in one sense prayer is the most important portal of new insight. And there may be other qualifications I should have made or should make as well. But having said that, my aim is to help writers break free from the paralysis of not writing, because they don’t yet know what they think about an issue. My point is knowing what you think about an issue with clarity and fullness doesn’t precede writing, but comes from writing. That is what I am going to stand by.

Now I know, I am sure, that there are some folks whose brains are so amazing in their capacities to hold an idea in place and look at it from 30 different angels and see hundreds of relationships between the idea and those angles and the relationships among the angles themselves that they could think something through and have it clear in their minds before they put anything on paper. Maybe there are three of those people, like Albert Einstein. But let’s just say, for the vast majority of us, that is not true. Writing is a way the mind can start seeing clearly what was before a fuzzy tangle of thoughts.

So God bless conversations. Amen, conversations. I have had incredibly illumining conversations that gave me some important breakthroughs. But here is the reality for me — for me. And I just want to make sure people whom God is calling to write are giving this idea its due power. After two or three flashes of insight come from a conversation that you would not have had on your own, praise God for those conversations, writing now or not writing, what shall we do? Now what shall we do? Now you have got your flashes of insight.

For me those insights are bursting with possibility. So I come away from a conversation. Those insights are bursting with possibilities. Those possibilities are going in 10 directions at once. How do those possibilities, flowing from those three insights become clear and defined and differentiated and interrelated and coherent? I know of no answer to that question but writing. For me, and I think I am really average in this regard, not exceptional, more conversations won’t bring me and I think most people to this stage of clarity and definition and differentiation and interrelationship and coherence.

Sometimes I will wake up in the middle of the night after a conversation or after anything and a flash of insight is there and I am lying there in bed with this insight that may or may not have come from the conversation and the implications of it are starting to pour and question after question is starting to come to my mind and I know what I have to do. I have to turn the light on and at least reach for a pad of paper, which I have in the drawer beside my desk, and write enough to preserve that thought till the next day when I can get writing for more clarity on that thought. That seed will not come to fruition of illumination in my mind without that step.

So I will say it again. Yes, we are all wired differently. Different experiences bring light to our minds in different ways. But for those of you who are called to write, I offer you this claim: For the vast majority of you, the confusion you feel over what you are supposed to say or want to say will not go away until you try to say it. And saying it on paper preserves it and lets you go back and see what you thought five minutes ago — writing is a great way of thus seeing. So don’t let your confusion about what to write keep you from writing the very writing that blows away the confusion.