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The Revolution of Our Discontent

Mark has it. How do you start a revolution if the serfs are happy? It has to come from the groundswell, but most of us don’t care how bad the state of the market is. Not really. Many don’t even think it’s all that bad. What then?

This site—and this, and this—are putting out the call. People are hearing. But we need more. Hundreds of sites. Thousands of blogs. Everyone who reads you should be confronting the difference between you and him and thinking, “I want that.” Hundreds are already responding to the grassroots stuff that’s been happening so far. Imagine what the garden will look like a year from now and 3 and 5 and 10.

Writing—even if you don’t do it for a living—is worship. Everyone has a book in them, if they’ll commit to dig it out of the clichés and platitudes. But this is our work to be approved workmen, to earn the right to be artist evangelists. When people see our art, they should desire to know that kind of beauty, insight, truth. It should cause them to wonder. Was it Saul Bellow who said a writer is a reader moved to emulation? We have to inspire the serfs and not wait for someone “more qualified.” Remember Moses? “But Lord, I c-c-can’t t-t-talk very well.” We need more willing communicators.

True, the power is in the delivery. Think Martin Luther King, Jr. versus Jesse Jackson. But the real substance is the ideas, the message. And with inspired ideas, God will use our meager offerings to do amazing things.

How do you motivate contented serfs? Show them a vision of something better. Ted Dekker, Jerry Jenkins, Stephen King, Dan Brown, Dean Koontz, Sue Grafton, and all the others topping the lists have great ideas. But beautiful writers? That’s not their calling.

Good ideas create the demand for booksellers to fill, so publishers get writers to be racehorses with bigger contracts. It’s easy to say you wouldn’t bend to that pressure, but “Gee, do I want to struggle to provide for my family this year and write a really great book, or should I take the $100K contract to write 5 and reach 10 times as many people? Hm…”

What we need is more proficient writers to turn down the huge contracts and write beautiful books for handfuls of people rather than stadium-fulls. Easier said than done, of course.

But here’s the revolutionary part. Can we change the industry by bowing to consumer demand? No. It will only happen as we shun the acclaim and stop tip-toeing around the so-called heavy-hitters. After years of struggle, education, and climbing, choose to remain obscure and underpaid. It will take confidence, moral fortitude, and something more worthwhile to choose obscurity and suffering over getting “our due.”

But remember the monks. Community and family is greater than any riches. Ted Dekker wrote about this in Heaven’s Wager, interestingly enough. I want this writer’s group to be a family, a safe place, an artist’s community where we are committed to supporting each other so that when “our due” comes along, we won’t be tempted. I want to be in covenant with all of you and God so that I don’t allow history to repeat itself through the “aristocratic influences” that could compromise my calling. We need to be in it for the Lord, for the truth, for the art and beauty and sacrifice and increased suffering that brings understanding. You with me?

It’s a life commitment I’m calling for. You can’t say, “Okay, I’m committed to great writing—until I make it big. Then it’s all the cookies on the bottom shelf.” No. “But I’ll have a greater chance of reaching more people with the gospel! Just think of it!” Nuh-uh. “But think of all the good I could do with all that money!” Get behind me! Did Jesus wait until He was wealthy to do good?

Now let’s not judge other writers who have made their choice. They’re God’s to deal with. But as we seek to motivate the serfs, let’s work to find the rare examples of great writers who have made the other choice to defend the territory against mediocrity.

3 Responses to “The Revolution of Our Discontent”

  1. Mick, your passion and vision are inspiring! Whether or not I qualify as a “beautiful writer,” I think perhaps I’ve followed the less traveled path to get to this Revolution. All my life I’ve embraced and practiced art for art’s sake. Only in the past couple of years have I even considered pursuing widespread publication, and that only after several years of gentle prodding from the Lord.
    Creating art for the appreciative few satisfies me just fine. I love the genuine camaraderie that exists between artists dwelling together in obscurity. Accepting a contract to churn out a string of formulaic stories sounds like volunteering to go to prison. And, unlike many people, I don’t need the money. So I wouldn’t even be tempted.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is, you don’t have to convince me to flee assembly-line mediocrity. (Not that the $100K contract offers are overflowing my mailbox!) Any hesitancy I face arises from the opposite side of the issue. I write because the words call me — I feel their music pulsing in my veins. They beckon me, daring me to let them lead in the dance, promising to teach me steps I’ve never dreamed of before. The next thing I know I’m waltzing among the stars. It’s more intoxicating than the finest wine, and I’m almost selfish enough to not care if anyone else joins me.
    Don’t mistake my meaning, though. I’m not talking about laziness. I’m attentive to craft, in the same way I desire to play music well or to dance with grace. I desire excellence for its own sake, for the completeness I feel when every note rings true. The battle for me will not be the hard work or the turning away from pressures to conform. It will be the temptation to settle for a feast amongst a few friends, not caring if the serfs eat stale potatoes.
    I guess I need more of the evangelistic vision — at least when it comes to fiction. Nonfiction is another matter, but this comment is way too long already, so I won’t go there.
    You’re good at making me think, and I appreciate it. Keep it up.

  2. Brad says:

    Does anyone ever get confronted with such a choice? “We’ll give you $100K to write crap. Sign here.” Show me the line to that table!

  3. Interesting thoughts, Mick! I tend to think it’s the other way around, at least for me. It’s more like,”Okay, I’ll write mediocre until I make it big and you’ll let me write a beautiful book.” I don’t think it’s so much what the readers want as what the editors, sales and marketing people have the courage to publish. In this market-driven society, I think it’s possible to create a vision and create a market shift? Dunno. Maybe that only works with beer. :)
    Sure there will be people who always want a safe story, but I think if you look around the “emerging” world of faith, there are definitely a growing proportion of the church looking for something more…NOW. The publisher(s) who continue to take chances will be rewarded, both by readers and writers. :)
    who is off to revise her crap into dung :)

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