If you choose the riskier path and decide to spend your life as a creator, you have the job of feeling successful no matter what your objective successes look like. You must train yourself to feel successful, despite what your heart and the world tell you about your lack of success.
Erick Maisel, The Van Gogh Blues
I must follow this man's advice.
My readers aren't camping out for first editions or dressing up as my characters for Halloween. Book signings are exercises in humility--or delightful parties. It depends. My royalty statements are reacquainting me with negative numbers. (I'm so grateful I taught 5th-grade math. All that number theory is coming in handy.) And my books have shorter shelf-lives than strawberries. (My husband says this is an exaggeration, but for those who have received out-of-print notices, it sure seems true.)
And so, how can I feel successful in this media-guided, capitalistic, celebrity-worshiping society?
Be a sheep!
Matthew 25:31-46 is a red-letter passage where Jesus is explaining how he will cull the goats from the sheep when he comes in glory. He surprises the "sheep" of his story by saying when they fed the hungry, offered drink to the thirsty, invited in the stranger, clothed the naked, tended the sick, and visited the prisoner, they did these things to him.
And so, in Jesus' kingdom, success is belief and meeting the needs of "the least of these." What does this mean for the writer of fictional stories?
I'm just starting to give this topic some thought. Here is my rough draft, open for critique and review:
To feed the hungry, I must offer the Bread of Life, Jesus! There's nothing like the fragrance of baking bread. Stomach juices create a symphony of anticipation as toasted wheat and yeast fills the house. That's what this sheep of a writer must aim for. I want my stories to demonstrate an aspect of Christ the Lord that is so winsome that the reader will hunger to partake of him.
My stories should offer refreshment to the parched soul, a drink of water. Erase any Pollyanna story you have in your head. My readers live in the real world. They need hope. Nothing refreshes like hope.
Not everyone who picks up my stories is "at home" with Jesus. They've come to know a "Jesus" through the media, misguided religious institutions, or family members who is NOT the soul-loving, passionate, holy, mighty, Lamb of God of the Bible. To welcome the stranger, it is my creative challenge to pull back the curtain on the real Jesus to my readers.
And yes, I have some naked readers in need of clothes, but how do I clothe anyone with words? Perhaps this is giving readers a chance through the protagonist's experiences to put on faith, see how it fits, works, and grows.
Some of my readers are heart sick. To look after them as Jesus requires, I can't be afraid of getting too close to their experience, fearing that I'll catch something. That means my stories must be authentic, populated by characters experiencing full-frontal life.
When my stories speak to the imprisoned reader, they should hear: I'm here because I care. There's hope for you. I see it plainly. There are people--lots of people--in the world just like you.
Now, I've never purposely written to these goals, but they seem to emerge organically from a story that is written for the Audience of One who is Jesus.
How do you measure yourself as successful?