Who do you write for?

photo by DMedina
photo by DMedina, morgueFile.com

I ran across this interesting quote from Thomas Merton. It’s comforting, especially when my writing doesn’t seem to be going well, or my statistics aren’t what I’d like them to be, or any of the myriad of things that can go wrong with writing happen.

“If you write for God you will reach many men and bring them joy. If you write for men–you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world, for a little while. If you write for yourself, you can read what you yourself have written and after ten minutes you will be so disgusted that you will wish you were dead.”

–Thomas Merton, quoted by Joe Bunting on thewritepractice.com/this-question/

It’s not about what I can do, or the number of people I can reach.

It’s not about me.

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15 thoughts on “Who do you write for?

  1. I wish I could write for God, but I’m agnostic and can’t truly relate to that concept.

    I write for myself, but I don’t wish for death; I just wish I was a stellar writer! What an intriguing quote and what a great topic for a post, Laura! You are a talented writer, that I do know.

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    1. I respect your views on God, Dyane. I myself have had moments of doubt about the existence of God, so I understand this would be hard to relate to. I don’t think Merton is implying that people who write for self are necessarily wishing for death, only that if the writer’s standard of writing is based on something as fluctuating as our self-image (how we view our own writing, which is totally all over the place on the emotional map, at least for me!) then it’s easy to become disgusted with what we’ve written. I feel that way quite often myself, talented or not. This quote helps me, as a Christian writer, realize that I don’t have to ride the rollercoaster of public opinion, reviews (or no reviews), or even my own idea of how well I write. I just have to write. πŸ™‚

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  2. Interesting to read Dyane’s comment and your reply, for as I read Merton’s quote, I found myself thinking that as I write for others and for myself, I write for God. I write to love, to help, to heal. God is love. God heals and helps through us. God calls me to write as a mental health ministry to both myself and others.

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    1. Fascinating, Kitt. I, too, feel called to write. You are writing for God and in the process, helping to reach and minister to others and yourself. I know I’ve been touched by your desire to speak out for others in the mentally ill community who may not have the ability or even the stability or means to communicate their needs.

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  3. This is deep and difficult to comment on this blog. It gives us the opportunity to dialogue deeper and more open minded to discuss further. This is an incredible tittle!

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  4. This is a fascinating quote. I find increasingly that I write TO my readers, but I still write FOR God (if that makes sense). The question of audience is a tricky one: writing for one’s readers doesn’t necessarily mean you are writing for their praise, though. You could be writing for their benefit, for their encouragement, and because you love them… and in this way, isn’t that writing for God, too?

    It’s a slippery line, though. Writing for readers can quickly turn into people-pleasing, and I so appreciate Merton (and your) encouragement to remember whose praise we ultimately seek.

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    1. This makes sense to me. I think it’s perfectly possible to keep the readers’ interests in mind and still write for God. I think Merton is also reminding us not to be people pleasers, and not to be so hung up on reader opinions that we stray from what our purpose in writing is. Also, writing for God means that we’re freed to write as creatively as we can, without the constraints of worrying “will people think this is weird?” or “people don’t read such-and-such a type of writing!” (Both of which I’ve worried!)

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      1. Thanks, Laura, I am a little slow with developing ideas. One other thing dawned on me this morning. Writing for God involves being faithful to continue to write even if no one reads it at the time. I am thinking along the lines of one person plants and another waters, and God causes the growth. I was reluctant to start blogging or even commenting for that matter, but now I am seeing that it is a great way to discuss things in more detail. I live on the edge of Northern Virginia and it is extremely difficult to get past brief conversations because almost everyone is so busy. The joys of commuting.

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      2. Oh, wow, here’s another thought that I was contemplating earlier today. (Are we twins separated at birth?!) Being faithful to the task God has called us to do, even when it appears that no one notices, is difficult.

        Sometimes it feels like our God-given talents are being “wasted” or we aren’t “really” serving God.” One of Milton’s sonnets comes to mind. In it, he groans that he’s wasting his days writing what he really doesn’t want to write (political stuff for Cromwell) and losing his eyesight in the process. Meanwhile, he’s chomping at the bit to use his big talent to write an epic poem (what would become Paradise Lost), what he knows God wants him to do. Yet he fears that he won’t be able to write because of the blindness. The personification of Patience chides him: “God doth not need/Either man’s work or his own gifts. Who best/bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. (…) They also serve who only stand and wait.” Sometimes the faithfulness of just continuing on, bearing God’s mild yoke, is an act of service, an act of love, even if it doesn’t look like it, even if it seems to bear no fruit. All those years of political writing and his blindness gave Milton the maturity and ability to write Paradise Lost that he wouldn’t otherwise have had. Personally, I feel that way about blogging. I don’t necessarily “enjoy” it the way I enjoy novel writing, but it can still help develop my writing abilities and thinking processes, which may in turn help my novels.

        I’m thankful that you started blogging and that you’re commenting!

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