Fiction writers are extraordinary people. They slave away at their craft, earning their talent through years of hard work and endless dedication. They pour emotion and soul into their manuscripts. Their stories naturally become a part of them.
As fallen artists, we often associate our identity with our work. We don’t realize it, but we attempt to measure our value by the quality of our writing, our place in a certain writing group or stereotype, or the approval of readers. Misplaced identity generates harmful thought patterns that drain the joy we receive from writing.
Harmful Pattern #1: Comparison and Jealousy
This is a trap many writers, myself included, fall into without a second thought. We read other people’s work on a regular basis, whether we’re critiquing, beta reading, or casually flipping through the pages of a book. Sometimes the characters are extremely vibrant, the settings practically breathe with life, and the themes leave us speechless. We unconsciously hold another writer’s product beside our own work-in-progress. Our characters whom we adore suddenly seem mediocre at best, flat at worst. Our settings are cliché and our theme is only meaningful to us.
If we continue thinking like this, we start doubting. We conclude that we can’t produce such masterpieces. Our envy grows, and we wonder why we can’t be gifted like the writer we are jealous of.
This is a subtle sin. When we envy writers so much that we depreciate our unique strengths and enlarge our weaknesses, we’re questioning why God made us as we are. We’re asking him why he didn’t fashion us into someone more preferable, because somehow that other writer is more valuable. We surmise that God must have done a better job when he created them. We base our value on our writing skills, styles, and quality.
When we constantly try to be someone else, we become discontent. Our joy dies, because we can’t become a carbon copy of that writer we revere.
Harmful Pattern #2: Personal Compromise
Writers are special—we have labels and stereotypes we enjoy living up to. Whether you are a plotter or pantser, character or plot focused, kill all your characters or can’t bear to let them go, you probably fit into one of the many writer stereotypes. Labels connect people with shared interests, likes, and dislikes, forming a common unity.
There’s nothing wrong with plotting every point of a story before starting to write, or critically analyzing every detail in movies and books we watch and read. The problem arises when we try conforming to a stereotype or group we don’t naturally mesh with.
In an attempt to fit in a category we don’t belong, we change who we are. Perhaps you think you’re too nice to your characters compared to everyone else. So, you create depressing backstories and more intense, emotional scenes. This doesn’t suit you, but your fellow writers are hardcore. To fit in, you imitate them. When we view our individuality as a shortcoming instead of an advantage, we shove who we are into a mold belonging to someone else. Adopting a stereotype gives us a sense of safety and belonging. Nevertheless, that feeling is false, and can only be bought through stress and misery.
When we conceal who we really are, no one has the chance to know the real person inside us, causing us to feel fake and alone. God made us each unique, and we reject his design when we act otherwise.
Harmful Pattern #3: An Unteachable Spirit
We tirelessly hone our skills, desperate to be good enough for the world, our readers, our peers, ourselves, etc. When writing becomes our focus, we can start believing that if our writing is subpar, so are we. As a result, we fear failure.
We hide from critiques. After all, if our writing has flaws, it means we are not as perfect as we’d like. The repercussions of this mindset are obvious. Critique is a painful but necessary part of a writer’s life. If we fear correction, we’re missing out on a large amount of growth, and we will never be the masterful writers we wish to be.
Who Are We?
How can we remedy all our issues? If we are not our writing or the groups we’re involved in, then who are we?
For Christians, the answer seems apparent: we are children of God, heirs of his grace. This identity is often forgotten when we wrestle with jealousy, peer pressure, or an unteachable spirit. Our value is not contingent on what group we belong to or how well we write. It is rooted in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Our actions have no role in determining our value.
Because we are in Christ, our value is carved in stone. It cannot change. That’s what makes being a God-following artist so wonderful. Our importance isn’t dependent on what we create, but on God. We are free to mess up, then pick ourselves up without destroying our self-worth.
God also provides us with purpose. We do not have to write for empty praise, but to bring glory to God. He already understands that our efforts are weak, and we may fail. Mankind expects perfection. God wants our best. He is more merciful and kind than the fickle approval of man. We can rest in his grace and find joy in serving him.
Remembering Who We Are
We have a marvelous opportunity to grasp this truth. It can transform all areas of our writing life and enhance the joy we gain from our craft.
But how do we embrace such an amazing truth and completely apply it to our lives?
We can’t. We’ll never be able to comprehend the security of our identity in God, or the height, depth, and breadth of his love. Placing our identity in Christ is a daily battle we won’t win this side of eternity. We can’t separate ourselves from our writing entirely. It’s a part of us, and to an extent, may always be part of our identity. We will slip into jealousy. We will compromise. We will ignore correction. There is no three-step formula to erase such detrimental habits.
But we can fight those habits by remembering God’s unchanging decision to send his Son to save us from ourselves, which forever sealed our priceless significance. We don’t have to work for it or become something we’re not to be worthy.
When you’re tempted to esteem another writer above yourself, remember who set the standard for value. When you want to compromise to fit into a stereotype, remember that you belong in God’s family just as you are. And, the next time you’re afraid of making mistakes, I hope you remember that no mistake can separate you from your heavenly father. Stay loyal to your craft, but remember the one who created the words you use.