Those of us who write, and who believe in writing as a calling, frequently have the unfortunate tendency to love praise. It isn’t, perhaps, that we love praise but rather, that we love to know that our writing mattered to someone. And we take that as a kind of praise. This is both good and bad. It is good because it is a reflection of our desire to say something, to describe something of the human experience that is meaningful and powerful, that reaches inside the heart. It is bad because we come to depend on praise as a kind of currency that makes our work worthwhile.

There was a time when writers wrote in more isolation. Then, there was the pen and paper, the printing press, the type-writer, the mail, the wait, and the telephone. Then, words were cast out into the abyss and sometimes never returned. That isn’t to say that those words had no effect, or had no influence. Often, words that the writer hated, or words that the writer thought ineffective, had far-reaching influence for ages to come. Did Paul, for example, ever imagine how far and to how many his epistles would travel down the ages?

Now, however, we have the Internet. This wonderful tool allows instant feedback for writers. As soon as a column or story, book or poem is published we look to our websites, our social networking pages, our e-mail to see if someone still loves us. Sometimes they do, and it is a wonderful feeling. Sometimes they don’t, and they express their distaste or frank hostility with electronic messages that sneak into our minds as we open the ‘New Mail’ in hopes that ‘regarding your column,’ is another accolade to add to our list of writing accomplishments. These are literary assassins, bombs disguised as birthday cards.

Then, other times, there is silence. No love, no hatred, only the emptiness in which our written words echo back to us, saying ‘sorry boss, no one’s there!’ Waves from the shore across the deserted lake, a dog with no newspaper in his mouth looking confused, an empty mailbox, a silent phone. This may be harder than hatred. At least, as any spurned lover or lonely child will tell you, hatred and anger are forms of attention.

So what do we do? We should learn to live in our own words. We should learn to enjoy praise like a fading laurel wreath, to ignore harsh criticism like the sting of poison ivy (painful and inconvenient but seldom life-altering), and live without either. If we are writers of substance, who believe we are called to the written word, then it does not matter what our e-mails say, or what the fans say. What matters is the words in our head, translated onto paper for readers, who will benefit now, or 1000 years from now, or never. Only God can know.

Hemingway said it well in Green Hills of Africa, one of my favorite books. In this book, he says of writers, ‘If they believe the critics when they say they are great then they must believe the critics when they say they are rotten and they lose confidence.’ That’s profound stuff, dear writers.

The Internet allows us too many opportunities for external validation. Ask yourself, if the Internet stopped, how would you feel? If you had to sit alone and look at yourself, or in a book, or into the faces of the ones in your family or at work or in church, with no graphics, no common interest groups, no accompanying music or glib commentary judging everything from the safety of the keyboard, how would you feel? If it were only you and God, how would you bear it?
The Internet is great and as writers, it serves us well. But we cannot depend on those we find there to say if our words, or indeed our lives, are worthy or not. Their connection to us ends with the click of a mouse, the press of a power-button, the loss of a connection.

Our worth, however, lives forever in God’s assessment of us, which is this: I love you! And our words, if they are our own shots at truth and hope, or even anger or frustration, are valuable no matter what comes across the e-mail. Even if what comes is nothing.

Write on, my brothers and sisters, write on…

Edwin

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