Self, Doubt, and Writing

I used to think my self-doubt and insecurity about writing were signs of my profound humility. It felt noble and heroic to be this full of agonizing self-doubt. It felt lowly and meek to be so tortured about whether or not I could write. I could almost hear the soundtrack and the violins. If there'd been open, windswept moors nearby, I'd have been on them.

But that's the thing about pride. It hides itself.

The more I go on, the more I realize, it's entirely the other way round. Our self-doubt and insecurity don't reveal our humility; they mask our pride.

When you’re doubting whether you can do it, whether you're a good writer, you're looking to yourself, what you can do, what resources you have. You're focused entirely inwardly, on yourself.

It's pride because it means you think it's all about you.

But if you realize it's not about you — that whatever you have is a gift from God — if, in other words, you get out of the way — then you can be fearless. There is no vision too great, nothing too outrageous to dream, nothing too impossible to dare.

Peter looked at Jesus and walked on water; he looked down at his feet, at the waves and sank.

God conscious. Or self-conscious?

Or what about that little boy and his too-small lunch: he could look at his lunch (not nearly enough) and worry (how on earth will it feed 5,000?). Or he could look up at Jesus and give him what he had.

Which takes more humility?

If you believe, as Madeleine L’Engle believed, that your writing is not so much about control as it is about trust, you will be bolder, braver, more able to take risks — and your writing will become more like faith.

It's no longer about you and what you can do. You do the hard work of writing, you practice your craft, you show up. But you become servant to the story. And the story is cleverer and bigger than you are. Your job is to get out of the way and let the story through.

I’m learning that God wants his children to operate out of freedom and joy. Martin Luther said: "Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger."

So I continue showing up at my desk every day, a sinner struggling with self-doubt. But I’m learning to call it what it is — pride.

And I’m learning that my job is to simply give what little I have to God — my not nearly enough — and let him do The Impossible Thing. I’m learning to keep my eyes off the waves and fix them on him.

And I’m learning to ask not, “Am I a good writer?” but instead ask, “Am I telling a good story?”

The first is pride.

The second is just good storytelling.