DLGP

Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Winning in Writing

Written by: on February 10, 2022

As the title suggests, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is the remarkable memoir of multiple-award-winning novelist, Stephen King. The bestselling author, who sold 2.7 million books in the USA in 2018[1], may be described as the Shakespeare of contemporary American fiction, with decades of experience writing novels within several genres, including but not limited to science fiction. Highlighting several life-shaping incidents from King’s childhood to adulthood, On Writing provides important snapshots into the life of this American icon. The author is quick to say that this is not an autobiography but a CV[2].

But, On Writing is not simply a memoir. It also a very significant instructional manual on the craft of writing. Laying aside political correctness, King confronts the brutal fact, as Jim Collins’ would say, that “there are lots of bad writers[3] [emphasis added].” According to King, this is because not everyone is born with the gift of writing. Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis, Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Adichie and many others are clearly wired to write. Yet many others just do not have writing in their DNA. King suggests that usually those who are not gifted in writing end up at the bottom of the writing pyramid[4]. I agree with this thinking because the Bible seems to suggest the same when it says we are all “wonderfully and fearfully created[5].” Unique! This implies some, such as Solomon and Paul, can write well, are inherently wired with that grace. On the contrary, others are blessed with gifts in other areas different from writing[6]. Various scholars, especially in the area of strengths psychology, also suggest likewise[7].

However, King notes that simply having a writing gift will not guarantee excellent writing. Therefore, he urges emerging writers to read a lot before starting to write[8]. He points out that “imitation preceded creation” in the early days of his writing career[9]. Similarly, Ahrens encourages those interested in excellent writing to read widely while taking smart notes that they can use in future writing[10]. Remarkably, emerging writers do not have to go far to access great resources as building blocks for their future career, for as Campbell argues in The Hero with a Thousand Faces,[11] every culture has significant indigenous stories that can contribute to the toolbox of emerging writers.

King observes that to “write to your best abilities, it behooves you to construct your own toolbox and then build up enough muscle so you can carry it with you[12] [emphasis added].” Again, this highlights the uniqueness of every individual and indirectly points to a creative God, who has blessed us with a variety of leadership styles and, for those gifted in written communication, writing styles. I imagine there are stacks of written products and writing styles waiting to be unleashed among the billions of economically-disadvantaged individuals the global church is called to serve.

Building up enough muscle, as King argues above, is not easy. Bestselling novelist and screenwriter Steven Pressfield points out that every individual on the planet, writer or not, struggles with resistance. Elaborating, Pressfield suggests that we face resistance when pursuing any calling (writing, leading, etc); launching a business; dieting; seeking spiritual growth, education, moral transformation and a host of other worthwhile endeavors[13]. Indeed, resistance is so bad that Pressfield says “most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance”[14]. Working among low-income communities, I often witness untapped potential, or “the unlived life within us” as Pressfield so wittingly puts it above. Owing to reading Pressfield, I will like to explore more about resistance and how it can be overcome among the poor.

Yet for me, perhaps the most striking idea in The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle, is Pressfield’s comment that resistance is “the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, …” [emphasis added][15]. In other words, resistance is the world’s greatest challenge. This leads me to introspect on how resistance has played out in my life, how to address this, and facilitate overcoming resistance within my family and ministry context.

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomtaulli/2019/06/25/the-best-stephen-king-novels/?sh=abec1c85cf92

 

[2] King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. (New York: Scribner, 2000), 18.

[3] King, On Writing, 139.

[4] Ibid, 141

[5] Psalm 139:14

[6] Matthew 25 and Romans 12 discuss these gifts in detail

[7] Buckingham, Markus and Donald O. Clifton. Now Discover Your Strengths. (New York: The Free Press,.2001), 3.

[8]King, On Writing, 27.

[9] Ibid, 27

[10] Ahrens, Sonke. How to Take Smart Notes. (Scotts Valley, CA: CreateSpace, 2017).

[11] Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004).

[12] Ibid, 114.

[13] Pressfield, Steven. The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle. (New York: Rugged Land LLC, 2002), 15.

[14] Pressfield, The War of Art, 11

[15] Ibid, 11.

About the Author

mm

Henry Gwani

Disciple, husband, father, community development practitioner and student of leadership working among marginalized communities in South Africa

12 responses to “Winning in Writing”

  1. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Henry, there are so many wonderful thoughts in your post. You mention the untapped potential of those in poor communities and you also note Pressfield’s strong word about “resistance” that comes from within us all. Do you see more resistance that exists externally or internally in your current ministry situation? I know I asked a similar question last week, but I’m intrigued by the tension between nature/nurture – are we more influenced by our environment or by our nature. Of course it includes both at all times, but how much of what we face depends on our circumstances?

    • mm Henry Gwani says:

      Roy, thanks for your kind words and questions. In my ministry context, I believe there’s a mixture of both external and internal constraints/resistance. However, I think the most significant constraints are internal: spiritual emptiness; ignorance of God’s Word, leading to destruction (Hosea 4:6); not obeying/applying God’s Word, resulting in self delusion (James 1:22); etc. This is not to downplay the seriousness of the external factors like poor leadership etc, but it just seems to me that the internal factors are more critical. So yes, I fully agree that both nature and nurture influence us, but think majority of our work needs to be internal and if we get that right, the environment will probably fall in line

  2. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Henry: I was also captivated about Pressfield’s comments about resistance. He went to great lengths to show how damaging it is–even more than poverty? But he has a good point and its applications run far beyond the creative process. He is on to something here. Do you find resistance in your role in ministry? I try to do some writing myself, and at times I find resistance, but there are others times that I am in the creative zone and it feels great. I wish I could stay there all the time, but being human prevents that.

    • mm Henry Gwani says:

      Much thanks Troy. Like you, I find wrestle with resistance in effectively leading my ministry. This could be in the form of poor planning/time management, laziness/too little perseverance and a variety of other ways. That’s why Pressfield’s and King’s works inspire me so deeply: the honesty that its not just about talent, but work, work, work; thus affirming the maxim that practice (lots of it) makes perfect. God help us all, my brother.

  3. mm Jonathan Lee says:

    Hi Henry! I appreciated your interactions with Pressfield and King. You mentioned, “resistance is the world’s greatest challenge.” What are some resistance you observe in your current ministry context and your research?

    • mm Henry Gwani says:

      Much thanks Jonathan. One area of resistance I face in my context is that of inferiority complex: the idea that because one lacks the conveniences of life, then they are less in value than their neighbor, and thus lack confidence to relate as equals. I have struggled from this myself and see it manifesting a lot. I try to encourage the folks I meet here to know “all men are created equal.” Its not an easy journey, but I trust with God’s help, we’ll get there.

  4. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Henry: One of the things I most appreciate about you is the lens in which you see the world, the church, and those around you. “I imagine there are stacks of written products and writing styles waiting to be unleashed among the billions of economically-disadvantaged individuals the global church is called to serve” beautifully sums up not only the inherent dignity in which you see and interact with everyone, but the Father’s ability to see beyond circumstances to the potential, the dream, the bigger picture. Your community is lucky to have such a gracious, encouraging champion.

  5. mm Eric Basye says:

    Great post, Henri. It is an interesting thought thinking about Scripture. I wonder, did any of the authors feel compentant in writing? I am guessing not, which is a point King certainly missed from a worldly perspective. That considerations gives me an even greater confidence… the Lord equips us to do His work, whatever that may be.

    I would LOVE to learn all you have learned from the challenges you have experienced and delt with over your lifetime. Thank you for your perspective on this matter. I would consider this a great leadership principle.

    • mm Henry Gwani says:

      Thanks Eric for your very gracious words. Yes, I imagine that these writers (Biblical, classic or contemporary) had to also overcome resistance to write so well. It will be interesting to hear the stories of the godly ones when we meet in heaven ? One lesson learnt from my challenges is that nothing is impossible with God. I’ve been in life-threatening situations at sea and while travelling on land, and have seen God save me from all of them. Today here am I studying at a quality institution like George Fox. Nothing but the grace of God. I guess King had a similar situation with the overweight nanny he mentioned. He may not acknowledge God, but we can see God protected him a lot. God is good

  6. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Henry I am so moved by the ways you connected these books with the others we have been reading!

    Your concluded with this, “This leads me to introspect on how resistance has played out in my life..” As you consider this, what scriptural images or stories come to mind that speak to resistance? How do they inform you? How do those stories compare to what Friedman says about resistance?

  7. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Henry,
    I look forward to hearing what your perspective is on these types of books. I can imagine that it could be challenging to know how to apply these “tools” within your community. I remember with I worked with disenfranchised teens, many of them had a perceived hopeless home situation. Sometimes it was so difficult to just get them to try anything new, even if it could make their lives better.
    I would be interested to hear what you use to bring hope and transformative change, particularly in regard to the creative nature.

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