This morning I was back in the orange shag carpet of my childhood home in Long Beach, California. The light green walls and dark wood panneling capturing that perfect inexpensive elegance...
I recalled the impressionable boy of newly-evangelical parents, the sensitive first-born son of a family "saved" in the California Jesus movement. Campus Crusade, Maranatha music, door-to-door witnessing, and 2 men representing two major streams of influence.
Two representatives of the path he could go.
Both men asked themselves, what do people really need from me? And both delivered their answer.
Having taught writers to consider their influences at conferences and retreats for several years, it finally dawned on me there was a connection to the 2 questions I've heard most often:
"Is this any good?" and
"What can I do to get published?"
I believe both questions are really one:
"Am I good enough?"
It's a fair question. And I want to move fast and furious to the meat of this because certainly, publishing has long been built on the idea that experience and dedication is how you become worthy of the writer's title. But many, if not most who write will spend years learning to pitch, propose, shape and polish just to publish their story of hope and spiritual guidance to a few hundred and is that really worth all the effort?
Why should publishers and agents require such a high standard?
After 10 years in the industry, I was so burned out, I was despairing over the disparity between requiring people prove their worthiness and knowing that very requirement was exactly the same as the vice grip of religion, duty, and legalism that bound so many sad, beautiful souls to the lie of performance.
I soon went into full-scale inner debate:
You can't escape this. You must provide an answer. Which way will you send them?
The immature idealist in me wanted to fling the doors wide, burn the ships and create an enclave of revolutionary artists. The other part of me knew that would seal my fate as Editor of Really Bad Books.
But the question I kept circling back to was, What do people really need from me?
It was this side of 35 that I finally discovered my answer. A book arrived out of the seeming blue to help me slow down and look back to focus on what I really believed. The book was eventually titled One Thousand Gifts and it told a story that was too painfully familiar to be just coincidence.
In time, God revealed that in every situation, people need only one thing from me. It's the answer to that fundamental question: "Am I good enough?" Because strangely, somehow this well-known answer remains a secret. But it's a secret I see now Mr. Rogers knew, and Dr. Dobson as well. At the root, both knew we need to get past the surface to deal with the foundation, to sidestep the mind and get into the heart.
But there's something more than that.
I've posted this video of Mr. Rogers before. This is a courtroom moment more real than any Hollywood movie. This is what I believe all writers need to know when trying to get their message across, whether in a pitch, a book, or a radio interview...
I watch this and consider his deliberately slow way of speaking. I think of the care he uses in his words, the meaning honored by his delivery, how he seems guided by something, or someone higher than himself.
He speaks as a man who knows the answer to What people really need.
Is it true that we can never really know what people need, so why try? Should we just give up trying to "please" people and get busy with whatever we want to get out of our writing?
After all, we're the ones putting in all the work.
Or is writing less about "pleasing" people and saying what we might want, and more about writing what everyone needs? Isn't the real point of being a writer always about just one thing?
God reveals special needs by inspiration directly to our minds, right in the moment sometimes. And those can be great, instructive directions. But more often, the daily foundation of writing what people need from you will come from knowing this one thing. And when you consider the short time you have to grab attention any more, maybe this is something that can help you.
What if we could really get it into our bones what Mr. Rogers said here, what he came to know so well about his true job, the higher purpose of his work that wasn't really work at all? I believe that's the one thing everyone needs: to feel known, really known in all their struggle and anger, and accepted there for who they really are.
If more writers believed this and came together to support each other in that belief, maybe we'd know better what we were called for, and be able to give what all those before us gave, what our brave Savior gave, what those who leave a legacy have always given....
Yes. That one thing. And nothing less.
I never met either man, though my life was heavily influenced by those 2 men who guided me in expressing myself with honesty and restraint. And both were heavily influenced by their friend, Jesus, and so I've been deeply influenced by him as well.
To say I'm grateful doesn't quite cover it. But I still try. Every day.
As a friend of mine says, remembering is the way to be re-membered. All the pieces do make a whole again. And only the One who set the model to follow can use your simple, borrowed words for what you really long for.
Because this is what I've come to know: when I'm writing to give my fullest self to what readers really need, I know I'm good enough because of my friend who is always enough.