Parable for Writers

Colleen’s Keynote Address at Warner Pacific Christian Writers’ Conference, 1985, Portland, Oregon.

Behold, the kingdom of writing is as a Great Author who called his servants and delivered unto them his messages to be shared with a waiting world. To one, he gave five talents: writing novels, articles, short stories, essays and poetry. To another he gave two talents: riveting narration and dialogue. To the third, the talent of inspiration.

The writer who received five talents diligently pursued his trade. He studied, and polished, wrote, and rewrote. He refused to allow rejection to discourage him. Had not the Great Author given the talents? He, the writer, was responsible for developing them. After many days, weeks and months, this author had sold five manuscripts. The lives of many readers had been blessed.

She who had been given two talents also accepted their challenge. She attended writing conferences, networked with other writers, and cut chunks of time from her crowded schedule to write the things the Great Author impressed upon her. She did not see her words as carved in stone, but gladly accepted constructive criticism so she could become a better servant. Rejections gave way to scribbled, heartwarming notes from editors, until she had sold two manuscripts and was working on two more.

The writer who received one talent considered the gift of inspiration so powerful that what came to mind must be the exact words the Great Author wanted used. She hastily wrote them down and sent them to a leading Christian publisher, saying, “I was inspired to write this message from God. It is not to be changed by one jot or tittle.” [This familiar scene really happens. Inspiration can be a springboard, but wise authors know that manuscripts written in white heat and submitted immediately have little chance of becoming published.]

Like other such submissions, the manuscript was rejected. The long-suffering editor refrained from commenting, “Sorry. You may have felt inspired to write this, but The Great Author did not tell me to publish it.”

The impersonal rejection slip infuriated the writer. How dare an editor lacking the intelligence to see her manuscript’s worth slap her and God in the face? She buried her cherished work in a dark closet and wrote no more.

*  * *

After a long time, the Great Author returned.

He who had received five talents came and said, “I have increased my talents to ten, and more.” She with two talents brought the results of her labors. The Great Author said, “Well done, thou good and faithful servants. Thou hast been faithful over the little things; I will make you author of many. “

At last, the writer with the talent of inspiration stepped forward, “I knew You would be as angry as I am with the editor who refused what you gave me. I trembled, thinking of what you might do to others who might reject us. To ensure they would not suffer, I hid my manuscript.”

After a long silence, the Great Author spoke.

“Oh, ye of little understanding! You are a wicked and slothful servant. Did you suppose I would dictate my message to you, as into a heartless machine? Did you think only you were given inspiration? Even as I bless writers with talent for expression, I supply editors with the gift of refining. Gold in its raw state is dug from the ground, nugget by nugget. Before it can reach full potential for beauty, it must be purified and refined.

“So it is with writing. Since you failed in the task I gave you, I will bestow the message on someone willing to put it into the finest form possible in order to reach others. Someone who will send it out as many times as it takes to find the home I have designed for it–the place that will reach those who need it most.”

He turned to his servants. “Take the talent of inspiration, and the message, and give them to the writer with the five talents. My words must not be left to mold in a dark closet, but to light a candle in this needy world.”

There are many reasons why manuscripts are rejected. If Jesus had submitted His life story to the Capernaum Press or the Galilean Publishing Company perhaps he would have received one of these responses.

  • Too controversial. We suggest you delete all references to publicans, sinners, and tax collectors.
  • The “turn-the-other-cheek” theme will never sell.
  • Not politically correct.
  • Not believable that blind men suddenly see and the lame walk.
  • No one wants to read about another fanatic with a lost cause.
  • No rabble-rousing manuscripts.
  • Too liberal. We are partially supported by Pharisees, Incorporated.
  • We just don’t like it as well as other material already in the works.

 “Opportunity,” AKA, “The Broken Sword” (Edward R. Sill, 1841-1887)

This I beheld, or dreamed it in a dream: There spread a cloud of dust along a plain. And underneath the cloud, or in it, raged a furious battle, and men yelled, and swords shocked upon swords and shields. A prince’s banner wavered, then he staggered backward, hemmed by foes.

A craven hung along the battle’s edge and thought, “Had I a sword of keener steel-—that blue blade that the king’s son bears, but this blunt thing!” He snapped and flung it from his hand, and lowering, crept away and left the field.

Then came the king’s son, wounded, sore bestead [sic] and weaponless, and saw the broken sword, hilt buried in the dry and trodden sand. He ran and snatched it, and with battle-shout lifted afresh, he hewed the enemy down, and saved a great cause that heroic day.

I love the king’s son’s reaction when he sees the broken, discarded sword. No hesitation. A shout of triumph as he snatches it up and continues to fight.

Wannabes often dream of become selling authors, but are unwilling to take the necessary steps to achieve their goal. We have the right to write. We do not have the right to be published. My autobiographical Lamplight to Limelight traces the  long “Journey of Joy” from small-town logger’s daughter to bestselling author. It required the willingness to start small and learn everything possible.

My climb journey demanded self-discipline, study, and a gazillion or more rejection slips. Hallelujahs came with acceptances and heartbreak with multiple rejections of precious material over which I had laughed and shed tears. Rare  editorial comments such as, “Try us again,” or “Not for us, but well done,” brightened dark days.

Been There. Done That

Lamplight to Limelight includes a wealth of tips and tricks I had to learn the hard way such as, “How to Make Editors Smile,” “How to Make Editors Laugh out Loud and Reject Your Manuscript,” and a quiz to see how serious you are about writing. May your own journey bring joy.

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