Tuesday, November 22, 2005

JSB: A Writer’s Prayer

Sometimes I still have to pinch myself when I realize I'm doing the Writer's Digest fiction column. When I was learning to write I read that column every month, underlined, clipped and studied them. I still have five binders filled with those old mags.

That was back when the great Lawrence Block was writing the column. It was, for me, a sacred page. Which is why I take my responsibility so seriously. I know there are others out there hanging on my words, so I try to make each of them count, the way Block made them count for me.

Fortunately, much of Block's material from those days is available in book form. Telling Lies for Fun and Profit; Spider, Spin Me a Web; and Writing the Novel. I recommend them all.

In that first volume is a little piece Block called "A Writer's Prayer." I always liked it, and asked him recently if I could post it to this blog. He gladly consented. After you read it, give a visit to this Grand Master's website. It has a great little opening animation.

Here's the prayer:

Lord, I hope You've got a few minutes. I've got a whole lot of favors to ask You.
Basically, Lord, I guess I want to ask You to help me be the best writer I possibly can, to get the most out of whatever talent I've been given....

For starters, help me to avoid comparing myself to other writers. I can make a lot of trouble for myself when I do that, sliding into a routine that might go something like this:

"I'm a better writer than Alan, so why don't I have the success he has? Why don't I get the book-club sales? Why wasn't my last book optioned for a TV mini-series? How come Barry gets so much more advertising support from his publisher than I do? What's so great about Carol that she deserves a two-page review in The New Yorker? Every time I turn on the TV, there's Dan running his mouth on another talk show. What makes him so special?

"On the other hand, I'll never be the writer Frank is. He can use his own experience with a degree of rigorous self-honesty that's beyond me. And Gloria has a real artist's eye. Her descriptive passages are so vivid they can make me aware of my own limitations. Howard's a real pro--he can knock off more work in a day than I can in a month, and do it without working up a sweat. Irene spends twice as much time at the typewriter as I do. Maybe she has the right idea, and I'm so lazy I don't deserve to get anyplace in this game. And as for Jeremy..."

Lord, help me remember that I'm not in competition with other writers. Whether they have more or less success has nothing to do with me. They have their stories to write and I have mine. They have their way of writing them and I have mine. They have their careers and I have mine. The more focus on comparing myself with them, the less energy I am able to concentrate on making the best of myself and my own work. I wind up despairing of my ability and bitter about its fruits, and all I manage to do is sabotage myself.

Help me, Lord, to write my own stories and novels...Help me to grow as a writer....When I read a writer who does things better than I do, enable me to learn from him. When I read another writer who has serious weaknesses, allow me to learn from his mistakes.

Give me the courage to take chances....Don't let me forget, Lord, that acceptance and rejection aren't all that important anyway. The chief reward of any artistic effort (and perhaps of every other effort as well) is the work itself. Success lies in the accomplishment, not in its fruits. If I write well, I'm a success. Wealth and fame might be fun (or they might not) but they're largely beside the point.

Let me accept rejection, when it comes, as part of the process of gaining acceptance. Let me accept dry spells as part of the creative process. All across the board, Lord, let me accept the things I can't do anything about, deal with the things I can, and tell which is which.

And let me always be grateful, Lord, that I am a writer, that I am actually doing the only work I've ever really wanted to do, and that I don't need anyone's permission to do it. Just something to write and something to write on.

Thanks for all that. And thanks for listening.

James Scott Bell, in addition to writing the fiction column for Writer's Digest, writes novels. He's got fifteen out there, and number sixteen arrives next April, Presumed Guilty from Zondervan. www.jamesscottbell.com


At 9:01 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

Enjoyed your article. Every morning I have to have my Charis Connection fix (right after First Novel Journey). I always learn something about fiction from the CC pros. Today, I was reminded to keep things in perspective. Thanks for the beautiful prayer you shared. On a side note, I love this -- The Writer's Prayer.
"Our Father, Who art in heaven, and Who also hath written a book...help!" :) God bless--
Kristy Dykes

At 12:31 PM, Blogger Lynetta said...

Thank you for sharing that prayer. I will come back and read it often.

Your commitment to developing your writing craft inspires me. Every time I get my copy of Writer's Digest, I always read Fiction Essentials first. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!



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