Friday, June 18, 2010

Pretty plain and peaceful


Sometimes — no, lots of the time — I wonder and question and doubt whether I’ll ever “make it” as a writer. And by “make it,” I mean seeing my name on the New York Times bestseller list. Petty, I know.

One of the reasons I wonder this is because my life seems too, well, normal — while the lives of those other writers who are famous and respected are often great big stinking piles of poo.

For example, in her book “Bird by Bird,” Anne Lamott talks about growing up as the daughter of a writer whose friends passed out drunk at their dinner table, committed suicide at alarming rates and generally made a huge mess of their lives. She tells about how her 3-year-old son one day used multiple curse words — and used them correctly, I might add — because he had heard her say them so much. She talks about what her therapist has told her. On and on it goes, and I think, “My kids have never even heard me cuss, nor do I plan for them to,” and “Why on earth would I need to go to a therapist? There’s nothing wrong with my life.”

So of course Anne Lamott should be a good writer and have lots of success — because she’s got so much interesting stuff to write about. Psychotic and insane stuff, perhaps, but still interesting.

In contrast, I think about what in my life would qualify as “interesting” to a mass audience, and I often come up empty. My life at home is peaceful. My children are relatively obedient, depending upon the day. My wife and I don’t have any screaming knock-down arguments with each other. I’ve tried to cut back on my drunken harangues (that’s a joke). Oh, I get to do some pretty cool things every so often (covering the Olympics is one of the most awesome things in the world), but on the whole, to quote Blind Melon, my life is pretty plain.

But then I think, maybe I have something to offer to those people whose lives are full of the psychotic and insane. Maybe those people are desperately longing for a life like mine — a life that’s peaceful, ordered and calm — and they have no idea how to attain it. So I’ll keep writing, in hopes that what I have to say might be of help to others, and in hopes that others with lives like mine might find something that resonates with them. As C.S. Lewis said, “We read to know we are not alone.”

In doing so, I’ll point them to Christ, who is the source of the peace that passes all understanding. The blessings of my life are not of my own doing, but are solely because God in his goodness has decided to give them to me.

For the past several months I feel like I’ve been on a journey with my writing, and I’ve come to a conclusion that has been helpful. I’m not the world’s best writer. Though I hope my writing continues to improve over time, I may never be widely regarded as one of the best writers of our age. And that’s fine. But writing is one of the things that I do best, and so I might as well go with it.

Categories : Writing


  1. Hunter Baker says:

    I have a friend who worked with a large publishing house. He told me that not even being on the NY Times list means you will make a lot of money writing. Apparently, some of the books that make the list don’t sell much more than 10,000 copies. They just happen to sell a good number in a given week.

    I have learned that it takes an incredible amount of work to sell a book once it is published.

    Maybe less so with a book about Albert Pujols than one about secularism! 🙂

  2. Scott Gladin says:

    Tim – I love the new look of the relaunched blog.

    Here are my two cents: I’m sure this is the way you view it already, as it is echoed by your entry. Your success as a writer will not be measured by numbers. Book sales, money – it is all trivial. It is the impact that those book sales, and the impact that the money has, that is important – regardless of quantity.

    I wish you the best! You are a very successful writer in my view. You’ve been able to keep me as an RSS subscriber for five or so years now!

  3. Di Winson says:

    OK, so you’re not the world’s best writer … or are you? Who is? Who’s to say? If you COULD rate yourself, somehow — and no, I’m not talking about the N.Y. Times’ best-seller list, I’m talking about some random, generic yet all-inclusive ranking — where, exactly, would you fall? Does that really matter, anyway?

    You are a very, very good writer, Tim, and perhaps one of the most important aspects of your writing is that you WRITE. You work at it. I happen to believe your talent for writing was given to you by God, as was your desire to be the best writer you can be.

    I know you’re being (somewhat) tongue in cheek in wondering whether your life is too “peaceful” for you to be a best-selling writer. Obviously, that peace is the result of the blessings you have been given, along with the decisions you have made toward having as peaceful a life as possible. (I often wondered if my own life was too “boring” for me to be a good writer … until my life got very UN-boring, at which point I realized that it is MUCH easier to concentrate on writing when you feel at peace with yourself — and the world!)

    I read a quote one time, somewhere, written or said by someone — I don’t remember who said it, but I do believe it was someone who would qualify as a writer who had “made it” — that anyone who survives his or her own childhood is qualified to write a book. Granted, it might not be a book you or I or anyone we know would want to read, but perhaps that is beside the point.

    I’m rambling a bit, but what I really wanted to say is I enjoy your writing — even or perhaps especially when I don’t necessarily agree with what you’ve written — and I am proud to see how much you have grown as a writer and as a human being in the years I have known you.

  4. misawa says:

    Welcome back, Tim.

  5. Mike N says:

    I think you’ve hit it on the head . . . the reflections of a grateful man who loves his wife and children, works hard and treats people respectfully and with integrity, and who has peace that is not the product of a self-invented deity might not entice cynical people and TMZ-addicted voyeurs to drop a lot of cash for his books, but it can be an encouragement to those who know him.

    One major error or public sin can “make” a person or create a NYT bestseller. But it takes a far, far longer stretch of faithfulness to get others to take notice. Celebrity can be built in a few months or manufactured overnight, but quickly fades into the, um, Twilight; legacy is built over decades. (Your father–and your tribute to him in February–comes to mind here.) Give me the legacy of Roger Ellsworth over the razzle, dazzle and fizzle of ______ any day.

    BTW, I thought the note you put on FB after your dog Suzy died was one of the best things I’ve read in a long time–and not just because I love dogs. That, along with some of your other pieces I’m recalling, makes me think that one of your great strengths as a writer (other than the ability to use good grammar and punctuation and produce coherent thought–no given in 2010) is to be personal and engaging and at the same time judicious and dignified; a lot of wisdom shown there.

    Stay faithful, brother, and your writing will always be a great instrument in the Redeemer’s hands for encouraging others. I appreciate you and your labors.

  6. Alex says:

    Dude, you just dropped Blind Melon AND CS Lewis in the same short article, and “used them correctly, I might add.” I’d say that’s pretty impressive!

  7. The best writers are not the ones who write about their own lives anyway. How many autobiographies rank among the classics?

    Okay, I’ll grant Augustine’s Confessions and C. S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy. But that’s about it. Great writers go outside of themselves to find greatness and then lead others to it. The author’s personal life is almost completely irrelevant if he can do that well.

  8. Micah says:

    Glad you’re back.

  9. Paul S. says:

    The Puritans viewed each individual’s profession as their calling from the Lord, and an opportunity to glorify God in a specific field/context/occupation. Sounds like your several month journey has brought you to a similar conclusion.

    Oh, and welcome back.

    Paul S.

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