On Discipline

As a writer it is vital to receive criticism. This is never easy. Words sting. Especially the right ones. I’m sharing my current novel, a story of gold mining in the 1890s in Eastern Oregon, with friends, and am biting my tongue as I write this. So far, the words I’ve shared have come back to me abrasively, from tongues honest, and twice that true. And all of it has been good. We may have different professions than writing—banking, teaching, nursing, homekeeper, lawyer, factory worker, engineer, and more—but all of us undergo criticism. So how can I still maintain a positive attitude when someone else pries into my work and digs out the waste?

Well. First of all, I’m not the master of my work; I’m not ultimately in control of what I create. If my priorities are aligned, I’ve let God work through me to craft a work that glorifies Him. That story cannot survive unless it does this, so if I have any other ulterior motive, that motive, and the words reflective of that motive, needs to go. I’d like to think that I have something to say, something sharp. Something from my playbook. I’d like to believe that my work is a candle you light to illuminate prosperity. But in the end, the only premise of my writing should be to honor God.

That means my writing is not for me. It’s not of me. My heart, my hands, my skull—none of these are mine. My story? I can’t copyright myself. I wouldn’t want to. If I tried to assemble words that were somehow free from criticism, I’d have mashed together a lie.

And if I tried, it wouldn’t be genuine. It wouldn’t be art. Because God created me to be honed. He hones me on the page. He hones me in the kitchen and at the park and snowbound with friends and before my students, he hones me in the very thick of my mistakes, changing me here, moving me there, opening me up some, teaching me, a critic, to let go.

And more so, if I tried to create something free from criticism, my work wouldn’t last. I wouldn’t last. Picture a thin rubber dome meant to hold water, but holding air; what could have been used to bless a drought-stricken town would end up as gas.

Picture basalt. A wedge of it. If I tried to create something free from criticism than all I’d have left at the end of the day was that wedge. Nothing would have been formed from it. Nothing artistic. I’ll never shape the nuances of a character—his line of muscle, the graceful curve of his chin—if I’m unwilling to receive coaching from those around me who know how to create a man better than myself.

God is continually chastening me, not only in my writing but elsewhere, in my relationships, in my attitude, in my heart toward Him. It’s funny that the more I am instructed, the more suggestions given me, the more free I become. I’ve never regretted criticism that has helped me improve my craft, not in the long run. I suppose being disciplined is one of the most intimate ways in which God communicates with me, for He would not chasten me if He didn’t care. So my attitude, hopefully, is to receive criticism with an open, thankful heart, one that is made free.

There is nothing better than to be disciplined. When God or someone corrects me, it doesn’t mean that something is being taken away from me; rather, a horizon — one I hadn’t noticed — is being opened before my eyes. If I hadn’t let God chip away the rock around me, then I would never be free to walk with Him, hand-in-hand, to that horizon, far greater than any I could have imagined. Yeah, I’m willing to undergo discipline, as best as I can. It’s hard. It’s painful. But through it I know that I’m loved.

Hebrews 12:7 “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?”

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