Last week I received one of the biggest surprises in quite some time. After a day of dental work, dealing with a toddler going through terrible 2’s, and prepping for an all-night ski trip, Carrie and I settled into bed. I opened my laptop to read the news when an email came through. I read it and with my mouth hanging open and my hands shaking showed it to her. Alas, no I hadn’t won the Nobel Prize… yet.
What had happened was that an article I had written for a youth ministry network I’m involved in had gone live that morning and within a few hours had been picked up and put on the front page of The Gospel Coalition and had hundreds of page views that day. When I went to TGC’s website, I saw the listing of featured blog articles and for a few hours my name was alongside Kevin DeYoung, Mark Driscoll, and John Piper.
As the digital world goes though, yesterday’s features are today’s forgottens. So when I woke up the next morning and checked the site mine had been moved to the “archives,” in effect ending my brief but glorious 15 minutes of fame. Other unknowns were being featured alongside the heavyweights of Reformed Evangelicalism. It was their turn to be featured among their heroes.
Since then I’ve had some time to reflect on that moment. Here are 5 things I learned and want to share to all those out there who write as either a passion, hobby, or career.
- Words are forever – First, you have to say “forever” like the kid from The Sandlot, or else it loses its effect. But seriously, conversations are quickly forgotten. Passing comments made in important meetings will dissipate in the air. Speeches, sermons, and presentations tend to remain primarily within the context of their delivery. But as soon as words are put in print (or in this case digitally stored on a server), they become eternal. The printed word remains, in spite of every attempt to move beyond it. And words will outlast even the legacy of the author of them. To that end, it’s imperative that we who write recognize that what we write will last much longer than we will. We have to use our words wisely, and remember to never put anything in print we would not want to come up years later. There are lots of times I’ve said (and written) dumb things – the good news is there’s often grace for those who goof up in writing. But still, those words exist. And deleting the blog or taking down the article doesn’t mean that it hasn’t already been copied and distributed to hundreds of people.
- Recognize the Exponential Reach of Digital Media – I can still open the word processing document (put together on Pages, of course) where I wrote the article. What started as a document on my laptop went to a small network with a relatively small readership and then it was placed on a national, widespread website. What we often fail to realize in regards to social/digital media is twofold: 1) How fast it happens and 2) How widespread it happens. I call it exponential because it doesn’t take long for something to go ‘viral,’ all you have to do to become famous is get retweeted by Justin Bieber (I know, pretty low view of fame). This offers a great advantage in that helpful resources can be quickly distributed to thousands of people in the span of minutes through Twitter, e-mail, and Facebook; which 100 years ago would have taken weeks. But the disadvantage is that it doesn’t take long for bad ideas or dumb sayings to go viral (remember that Friday video?). Herm Edwards, former NFL coach and current ESPN analyst, tells rookies every year this wisdom about Twitter: “Don’t press send!” Edwards’ is right that we must remember that our words go much faster, further, and to a greater audience than we perhaps ever intended.
- Words are a stewardship – James 3 reminds us that those who teach are held to a higher standard. Teaching is primarily the use of words to explain, illustrate, and convey truth that transforms. So when we write, we are using words to convey some truth. And we must remember to be good stewards of our words. This includes: saying fewer words rather than more, not being unnecessarily complex/jargony, capturing and distilling the essence, and using words to edify the body (Ephesians 4:29). We who write must remember that when criticizing to do so both truthfully and gracefully. We also must remember to write in such a way that what we say is understood, and leave no room for doubt/questioning/misinterpretation. We must choose our words carefully, because what we say often reflects how we say and why we choose to say what we say.
- Stay humble – Like I said in the beginning, after a day my post was banished to the archives, never to be seen again (except maybe by someone with too much time on their hands). Perhaps this is the hardest part about writing: your moment of glory is just that, a moment. Fleeting. Gone before you know it. Unless you happen to be a heavyweight or have good connections, you won’t get the chance to be a regular contributor as a writer. The humility comes when you realize that no one knew who you were before you wrote something and after it’s over, no one will notice your name disappearing from the list. Getting anything published is an act of grace, and any piece of writing that makes the cut is a reminder that you still have a long way to go. It’s also humbling because I got to read some of the posts mine was listed alongside and I was reminded of how far I have to go as a writer.
- Keep writing – The previous was to stay humble, perhaps this could best be described as ‘stay hungry.’ Getting something published or picked up off the wire is only the beginning. To be honest, the article I wrote that got picked up was far from the best I’ve ever written. A journal article that got picked up last year by a university journal was my 3rd option. The best way to become a better writer and grow a platform as a writer is to keep writing. But with more writing comes more rejections than publications. I have some friends who are big contributors to journals, magazines, and have national speaking circuits. They still get writings rejected. But the key is to always keep writing, get more feedback, and keep submitting.