The Wild and Wooly Truth

“I’ve read the story you sent me. It’s not good. Try another form of writing.”

A literary agent sent that comment in response to my first attempt at fiction.

 

“You don’t even know what you’re trying to say, Lori. Until you do, you shouldn’t try to get someone to publish you.”

Words from one of the first editors I pitched.

 

“No. No. That was not good writing. I’m disappointed. I expected more from you.”

A writing workshop leader reacting as I read my attempt at his assignment.

I have framed and hung these words on the walls of a special room in my mind where I keep those things for which I am particularly grateful.

It’s true. I recall each of these comments with a heart full of thanks for the speakers.

That isn’t how I felt the first time I heard the words. My initial reaction to each was disappointment, embarrassment, and indignation. It would have been easy to build a special room in my mind just for these words and others like them. A small, dark room in which to keep vials of bitterness and black velvet paintings of heartache and dashed hopes. A cedar-lined alcove bereft of sunlight where the only music is “Say Something – I’m Giving Up On You” on a constant loop.

Yes, it was tempting to enshrine these words in my soul’s mausoleum, mentally eulogizing my attempts to write.

Instead, sitting alone letting the sentences run like news ticker beneath my regularly scheduled program, I invited Jesus to review them with me. I knew that each time I heard words I didn’t want to hear, I had a choice to make. Jesus whispered in my ear the same words He asked the crowds in Matthew 11 when his cousin John languished in prison for calling out the king on his affair with his brother’s wife: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?”

John the Baptist told the truth. His truth telling landed him in prison and eventually, got him beheaded. So Jesus asks the crowd who had flocked to listen to John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?”

The essence of Jesus’ challenge to the crowd is this – what did you expect to hear from a prophet, someone chosen to deliver truth from God? Were you seeking someone who would sway his message to the prevailing wind? Or were you hoping to receive fine eloquence to seduce and entertain your ear? If, instead, you went out to hear a prophet, why then, do you reject the truth he tells or complain when it challenges your comfort?

When faced with hard words about my writing, Jesus asked me, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” Was I willing to live with the discomfort of frustrating truth and let it spur me on to greater excellence or would I set about to erect the dark room where self-pity could flourish like fungus beneath mounds of rotting leaves?

Making the correct choice has made all the difference in my life.

That literary agent is now my dearest mentor, friend, and representative in the writing world. That publisher respects my work and encourages me to submit proposals. That workshop leader is a treasured guide and friend. They told me the truth and by accepting it (instead of locking them away out of sight screaming “Off with their heads!”), my writing improved and so did my character.

How do you respond to the truth you entered the wilderness to seek? When you read God’s word, listen to sermons, receive loving correction from a counselor or friend – do you lean toward banishment? Do you decapitate the truth to facilitate your self-delusions and maintain your comfort? Or do you kiss truth on the lips so you can awaken from your cursed sleep to pursue a deeper relationship with the One who created you?

People who tell us the truth deliver gifts God will use to spur us on to greater adventures if we will receive them with grace. To reject the truth is to lock His work in our lives away in a cell. John was freer in prison than the king was on his throne. I was more blessed by hard truth than I would have been by false praise.

What did you go out into the wilderness to see, loved ones? And what will you do when that wild and wooly truth disturbs your comfort in the universe? The right choice will make all the difference.


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7 Comments

    The Conversation

  1. Pam Manners says:

    Thank you, Lori. The truth I was handed today has nothing to do with the literary field. But it was painful and ugly and scary nonetheless.

    I wanted to lash out at those who dished it out. I wanted to lash out at myself for feeling like a failure AGAIN where my family is concerned. I wanted to scream and cry (which I did) and give up (which I am precariously close to doing).

    Yet along comes your blog post, with its questions:

    What did you go out into the wilderness to seek?
    How will you respond?

    I have a choice to hide in that small dark room you mentioned, or to embrace the truth and keep moving forward in the adventure.

    Honestly? I think today I would have chosen to hide had I not read your words here.

    Thank you doesn’t seem enough, but it’s all I have right now. So thank you, Lori.

    • I’ll be praying for you today, Pam. Trust me, I did my share of crying over the hard truths I’ve heard (and am sure I’ll do more). Like King David, we just need to do our screaming and crying in the Lord’s presence and let Him have the final word.

  2. Debra says:

    Lori, did you abandon fiction because of this? Did this agent steer your writing in the direction of a call, perhaps? In other words, do you now feel called to write nonfiction over fiction?

    • I didn’t abandon fiction, Debra. I realized I had much to learn about storytelling. I studied, worked hard, and my novels have won contests but are, as yet, unpublished. Right now, my focus is the blog and non-fiction but I won’t abandon any vehicle for communication. The main thing is the message and I’ll work to master whichever vehicle is best for communicating each story God calls me to tell. That agent believes my strength is non-fiction but he happily represents my fiction as well. He is a godly man with an eternal perspective and a strong work ethic.

  3. Bets ryan says:

    Well done, good and faithful servant… well done, indeed!

  4. Maxine D says:

    I am learning to handle and use criticism to the good, but yes I have grovelled and whined and cried and tried to reject it, but God has a way of continuing to bring it to mind until I do something constructive with it.
    Blessings from a disturbed hobbit
    Maxine