I have been struck recently by the number of articles and comments from writers I know on two particular subjects:
1. Having the right mind set as a writer. The attitude and outlook that writers should have to their work, and how to survive as a writer, emotionally and spiritually.
2. The toll that writing can take on a person. This is the creative cost of writing, and the often hidden cost of marketing our work.
I think these themes are related, and there is wisdom to be gleaned from scripture on how to tackle these challenges together. In Jeremiah, the person who trusts in the Lord is likened to a tree that is planted by water. The tree sends out its roots by the stream and is strong, even when the heat comes, and (let’s not forget this bit) the tree never fails to bear fruit.
The same theme is presented at the very beginning of the Psalms. The person who delights in the law of the Lord is like a tree planted by streams of water. It also bears fruit, but there’s an important qualification on this, it bears its fruit in season.
If we compare our own creative output to the fruit of the tree, we can see at least a couple of lessons here:
First, we need to be planted by water; I think this can be widely interpreted as the guidance of God, the Spirit of God, living the kind of lives that encourage rather than hinder our work. We can’t create out of nothing, we need to draw on something, God, rest, life, to recharge our batteries and to provide some fuel for our imaginations.
Secondly, there should be a rhythm to our creative output. Like the fruit of the tree, we should expect it to come in ‘seasons’. I think this is a real problem for writers, especially in the Western world. I am too distracted, and too tempted to try to produce something all the time, rather than the right thing at the right time. I can’t help but be busy, I am always tempted by the desire to think about a writing project, to look at book sales stats, to be ‘switched on’, to be on duty all the time. The result is plenty of activity, but how much of it is the best of what we should produce?
Nature, and the imagery of God’s word points to another way.
Even the best tree only produces its fruit in season, if we ask our favourite apple tree what it can offer in February, the answer is – not much. But if we respect the rhythms of nature, the wisdom of God, we will wait for the fruit to be ripe and sweet and at its best; so it is for our writing.
Andrew Chamberlain is a writer and creative writing tutor. He is the presenter of The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt, a podcast and author of The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt Handbook containing the best advice and insight from 100 episodes of the podcast.