You’ve sent out dozens of queries, networked with editors, and worked on your craft. Now you’ve landed that writing gig. Congratulations!
But then something unexpected happens: you sit staring for too long at a blinking cursor. All the great ideas you had for the assignment have flown from your brain and you feel stuck. Meanwhile, the deadline gets closer and closer with every tick of the clock.
Instead of thinking about the content of your writing assignment, you ask questions like these:
Who am I to think someone will want to read what I’ve written?
What should I say?
What if my audience doesn’t listen to me, or believe me?
What if I don’t have the talent and skills to ever produce compelling work?
I don’t know of a single writer who doesn’t voice these doubts occasionally.
A block in creativity happens to the best of writers.
For me, the higher the stakes of a writing assignment, the harder it is to let the ideas flow.
I’ve heard (and used) a lot of tips to break writer’s block before. But recently, God gave me new insights into a writer’s mind when He showed me His calling and commissioning of Moses to be His messenger to free the Israelites from slavery.
As a writer and speaker, Moses was one of the most impactful communicators of all time. Not only did he ask the king of a formidable nation to free God’s people, he also led those people into the wilderness and ministered to them for 40 years. He wrote down the entire history of God’s people, from Creation to their arrival in the Promised Land.
Despite his successes and accomplishments, Moses started out by asking the same questions the majority of writers ask. Because it’s recorded in writing, we get the benefit of seeing God’s answers to those questions in the book of Exodus.
“Who am I?” (Exodus 3:11)
It’s a rare creative person who hasn’t dealt with impostor’s syndrome. When we’re called to write spiritual truths especially, it’s natural to wonder how we could be qualified to speak for the Creator.
In a way, that humility is a good thing; pride would definitely damage the message we’re supposed to write. But if the question keeps us from writing the message in the first place, we need to remember God’s answer: “I will be with you, and you can be sure it’s Me who has sent you.”
In other words, it doesn’t really matter who I am, as long as I’m writing alongside the One who sent me. That takes all the pressure off of being special, talented, or otherwise noteworthy!
“What should I say?” (Exodus 3:13)
Some days, I’m bursting with juicy ideas, and then other times I show up to write like a shriveled raisin. Whether from exhaustion, stress, or other worries, I have nothing to give. It’s then that I have to go back to the heart of why I felt called to write in the first place.
When Moses asked God, “What shall I say to them?” (Ex 3:13), God said, “Tell them I AM has sent me.”
Regardless of genre, Christians who write do so to tell our readers who God is. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, our words point the reader to God. Sometimes we do that directly, and sometimes it’s more subtle.
If you write nonfiction, ask yourself what your audience needs to hear. If you could sit down over coffee and tell your ideal reader what’s on your heart, what sorts of things would you say?
If you’re a fiction writer, ask, “What does my character desperately want, and why can’t he or she get it?”
“What if my audience doesn’t care what I have to say? What if they don’t believe me?” (Exodus 4:12)
If you’ve ever read reviews of your favorite books on Amazon, you’ve seen some harsh criticism. No matter how well written, no message appeals universally.
Moses instinctually knew this when God asked him to go to the Israelites in Egypt and tell them to get ready to leave for the Promised Land. “What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say?” (Exodus 4:1). Again, God flips the focus of the question from the writer back to Himself. “I will […] teach you what you are to say.”
Rather than spend precious energy being concerned about those who don’t care or those who don’t like our work, we write for those who do care, and those who do appreciate what we have to say. If we have critics, we can put them in the category of “not my audience.”
When we strive to serve our audience (and not someone else’s), we lean into God and what He’s taught us, the message He’s put on our hearts to share with others. Our writing then becomes what we believe He wants our audience to hear. Any rejection is not a dismissal of our words, but God’s. This doesn’t dismiss the need for constructive criticism and a good editor; everyone’s work should be evaluated by qualified critics before seeing print. But even high-quality work won’t appeal to every person.
What if I don’t have the talent and skills to ever produce compelling work? (Exodus 6:12)
Often this question pops into my head after comparing myself with another author. Any sentence that begins with “If only I could write as well as …” leads to doubting my own abilities.
In just the first six books of Exodus alone, Moses voices doubts about his ability three times. I’m glad I’m not the only writer who constantly wrestles with God about this question!
When Moses told God, “I am slow of speech and slow of tongue,” God responded, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11). In other words, when we think we’re not talented enough to share the message God has given us, we’re doubting His ability to choose His messenger and expressing ingratitude for the talents and skills He’s given us.
We know from Acts 7:22 that Moses underestimated his skills. The Bible tells us that “Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds.”
Writing skills don’t come naturally to most writers. We have to work for them. Ironically, the surest way to not be talented or skilled enough is to not write. It’s by writing and accepting constructive criticism that we gain more skills and hone our talents.
Cecil Murphy once said that the assignment we’re working on should be the best we can produce right now. As writers, if we continue to work on our craft, we’ll look back on past assignments and see the growth process.
Isn’t it comforting to know our doubts are not uncommon to writers, even back to the time when writers used papyrus? Since God isn’t surprised about any of these questions, we can confidently place the outcome of our writing in His hands.
We may not see success on our own timeline. Moses didn’t even hear the call of God to ministry on his life until he was 40 years old (Acts 7:25). He wouldn’t even know what that ministry would look like until he was 80 when God appeared to him in a burning bush.
But we can rest assured that, if we are called to write, God will teach us what to say and how to say it.
Like the author of Hebrews says, “Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21).
Do any of these questions harangue you as you struggle with writer’s block? Share your insights in the comments.
Lyneta Smith is the author of Curtain Call: A Memoir. She writes and edits from the home she shares with her husband near Nashville, TN. You can often find her chatting with friends down at the local coffee shop or making dinner to lure her adult kids home for an evening.