While thinking of an appropriate subject to present as my first contribution to the CAN blog, I decided on the topic of discouragement. Why something so negative? And what does discouragement have to do with the craft of writing? We’ve all heard the admonitions to persist in our writing, to fend off discouragement, to plow ahead with our calling. And that’s what we do—knowing that if God has called us to write, he will “sift and search out” our path (Psalm 139:3 AMP), and use our words to glorify him. Oftentimes, writing is a joy—easy, flowing, inspired. But other times it’s a real struggle to keep at it.
In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a king punished in Tartarus by being cursed to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this throughout eternity. The word sisyphean means, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, “endless and unavailing, as labor or a task.” Sometimes we work so hard at writing our books, rolling them up the hill to be noticed by an agent or editor, excited to share our boulder with the world, only to have the thing roll back down as we watch in dismay—or, worse yet, as we get crushed underneath as it careens down the hill.
I’ve met a few writers who have had an easy course. Within months of writing their first book, contracts were in the mail. Without much effort, their books catapulted to best-seller status, and within a few years, their list of published credits matched the length of my daily to-do list. For we writers who have struggled the long haul to that golden ring, we fight feelings of unworthiness and envy. Perhaps we finally get our books published and chance upon a scathing review, or sales are disappointing. We finally got that boulder up on top of the hill for everyone to see, and then—more discouragement.
As someone who had to wait over twenty years for that first publishing contract, I consider myself an expert in discouragement. The flipside of that coin is persistence. Persistence either leads to determination or giving up. But the blessing of discouragement is closely tied to the writing craft. For, if my determination is continually renewed, my calling reaffirmed with each disappointment and rejection, along with it comes the drive to excel and improve my craft. I have found that my passion to reach out with my words grows more urgent with each year passing, and that translates in my writing as honesty, fervor, urgency, and compassion. I am forced to reflect on what I am writing and why. On how I am writing and to whom—and to what end. Perhaps, because of my personality and background, and my passion to reach and change hearts, God has seen fit to give me a season of discouragement as a way to mature and ripen my sensitivities and insights into human nature. I have no doubt that discouragement has played a huge factor in my growing as a writer—not just personally, but in my craft.
May we all look at the boulder-rolling experience in a positive light—we gain strength from the effort, get a glimpse of what’s on top of the hill, and learn to sidestep the discouragement as it comes barreling at us. Eventually, after so many times of crashing down the hill, the boulder will wear down to a manageable size—perhaps one day ending up a pebble we can carry in our pocket as we take in the glorious view from the heights.