Surrendering to being the writer, part 2
In which I face fear and start on a new path with God as the focus
In part 1, I traced my trajectory from a young writer in love with words to a frustrated, burned-out adult content marketer. But God was at work, bringing me toward a future where my trust was no longer in myself or marketing “best practices,” but in Him and His plan for my life.
That’s what part 2 is all about.
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The more I wrote, the more I began to accept writing as central to my life's purpose. But fear kept me from going all in. I couldn't see how I could make a living if I shifted from content marketing to personal writing. I was terrified to take that leap of faith, to dive into "being the writer" without a plan or much runway. I couldn't bring myself to jump completely into what I was convinced God wanted me to do.
The thought of turning personal, creative writing into work depressed and overwhelmed me. I had no idea what would happen; I was afraid I might be wasting my time. I feared I was being idealistic, that I simply wanted writing to work out as a career, wanted to believe people would value good writing over Google fodder, wanted to legitimize my desire to get paid for being creative.
And I despised the idea of promotion and distribution. It smacked of the very things I disdained in content marketing: emotional manipulation desired to drive conversions, in-your-face "sharing that was basically hollering at your audience until they did what you wanted, or hours spent filling Reddit and Quora with garbage posts under the guise of "building community."
I'd come up against emotional impasses like this before, but I'd never pushed through. I usually convinced myself that what I was doing would never work and changed course before my tactics had enough time to gain traction.
I had never wholly surrendered my approach—or my work—to God. And I was terrified to try.
But God, merciful and patient as He is, was working. During this time of internal chaos, I made friends with, a fellow Foster member with truly unique views on internet content. He, too, had come out of a content-marketing, clickbait-slinging, coercive-copywriting background and was determined to take an outspoken stance against the Google algorithm game.
So determined, in fact, that he wrote an entire manifesto declaring his opposition and inviting others to join him. He dubbed the insidious march of insipid, Google-centric content "The Pattern" and called creative people everywhere to subvert the status quo by creating things only they could create.
That manifesto smacked me between the eyes. It exposed everything that unsettled me about content marketing and gave words to my own frustrations. It confirmed that my desire to escape the rigid framework didn't mean that I was giving up: there really could be a better way to approach writing and creativity online.
I wasn't the only one who felt this way. Others in and outside of Foster gave their collective nod to Rob's declaration and voiced their own distaste for The Pattern. At Foster, we doubled down on helping people tell the unique stories they carried inside instead of writing "internet content". Through it all, I started to feel like maybe, just maybe, I wasn't being too idealistic. Maybe writing for people, not algorithms, was a legitimate pursuit.
Maybe being the writer did, in fact, have value.
I also began to realize that I didn't have the knowledge or experience to manage entire content strategies. I wasn't a social media manager or an SEO expert: I was a writer.
I declared as much to myself in a journal entry in August of 2022. Long before, I'd made a weekly habit of praying about my business. I set aside an hour each Sunday to review the morning's sermon notes, read relevant Bible verses, and bring my business concerns before God.
I took notes on insights I gained and things God showed me during those prayer sessions. As I reviewed the previous quarter that day in August, I wrote: "WRITER is my main calling. I've accepted that." I felt so much more alive and whole and me when I wrote—and I knew, after months of wrestling in prayer, that God wanted me to write.
I had already dabbled in it by stealth-launching a publication on Substack and posting a few nostalgic personal essays. I loved capturing the images and emotions from childhood and my early teen years in written form, and others enjoyed reading them. The positive feedback surprised me: I was told that the essays were really well-written and that I should write more—or even write a book.
Despite this encouragement, I still wasn't all in. The fear remained: fear of failing, fear of abandoning any potential for a consistent income, fear of blowing through my savings as I chased yet another pipe dream. I was too scared to accept the very thing I had ostensibly accepted as my calling.
Then God broke through.
In an October 2022 prayer session, He convicted me about the fear and my own stubborn resistance. I realized that I was choosing to say no to what He wanted me to do and that doing so was willful disobedience—what the Bible calls sin. I needed to stop making excuses as to why I couldn't be the writer and trust God to lead and sustain me as I finally surrendered to who He'd made me to be.
I had to trust, pray, reject the fear...and obey.
It's a scary process. The early stages of getting serious about writing feel embryonic and uncertain: no real foundation, audience, or reputation, and no guarantee that it will go anywhere. But I don't want to keep sitting on my writing talent because it might not be profitable. I don't know how God might bless this work now that I've embraced it. He could use it as an avenue for me to share ideas that others aren't sharing, start conversations about issues people aren't addressing, or simply grow me as I walk with Him.
I don't know what "being the writer" looks like yet. Every creative thing I've ever done has been for me, for some end I envisioned. In the recent past, that "end" was the mythical land of the 6-figure freelancer (where every other writer and content marketer except me lived). It was a big audience—and the supposed fame and recognition that comes with it. It was my own satisfaction, pride, and glory.
But this is different: I want to approach writing like a craft, to apply myself to it like a working writer instead of a blogger or content marketer. I want to learn to write sentences and prose that flow with satisfying rhythm and cadence. I want to serve God with my writing talent, to be a good steward of what He's given me, and honor Him by treating writing as more than a means of making money. I want to approach writing joyfully and with all my might, to pursue excellence because this talent and this life are from God and for God. I want to please Him and make Him proud of how I handle what He's given me.
That means putting God first, not money or audience size. It means setting aside my own expectations and plans to embrace whatever opportunities He sends my way—no matter what that looks like or where it leads. It means seeing writing as a life calling from God and desiring to do it not just because I like it or it has the potential to be lucrative but because I desire to obey God and fulfill His plans for me.
I still want to be create and get paid, but I don't know the whole path to that—or even if it's what God will lead me to. I feel like I'm supposed to focus on writing to the exclusion of promotion and distribution right now, which doesn't make any sense if you look solely at online writing "best practices." This might be a season of ramping things up, of learning new habits, of discovering what it means to "be the writer."
Maybe this is a season for me to dive into the ideas that languished while I tried to bang out a niche as a content marketer and finally flesh them out as God intends. A season to learn, to explore, and to become.
Maybe through all that, I'll discover more about the human side of writing. Being in Foster is starting to give me a better picture of what that means: writing that echoes each author's voice, conveys personal experiences, and captures singular perspectives.
I'm still learning the value of this in my own writing, still skeptical that being a writer could impact the world. But I'm slowly beginning to see personal writing as meaningful work, a legitimate vocation instead of a creative hobby. I've gone from shoving my writing practice to the margins of my life to making time for it at the start of every work day, and I've started amassing resources to help me grow as a writer.
I don't need to know God's whole plan for this or see how the whole path will unfold. I trust that He will supply whatever I need to accomplish anything He gives me to do, including writing. As I surrender and trust, He will guide me to the right ideas and words. He will connect me with the people who need to read my writing, lead me to tools and courses to hone my writing, and clarify which platforms are best for promotion. I can trust and rely on Him to bring that writing before the right people as I finally learn what it means to surrender wholly to His purposes and plan for the talent He's given me.
I don't need to worry about where this journey will take me.
I just need to be the writer.
Thanks to fellow Foster members , , , , and Nicolas Forero for their input on parts 1 & 2 of this piece!
If you’re interested in reading more about Foster’s collective thoughts on writing and internet media, we recently released Edition One of our online magazine. Titled The Media Frontier, this issue features seven essays detailing personal experiences and visions for the future of writing online.
My piece, “The future of internet media will look like the past,” paints a picture of what the internet could look like if we take a page from the era of personal blogging and focus on human connection.
This is a remarkable statement of purpose and conviction about your future as a writer, and your growing awareness of what the real purpose and meaning of writing is, as your faith in God expands this life calling and finally gives it the purpose that was intended.
I learned 25 years ago when I first stated posting my personal essays on a GeoCities homepage, and later at the inspiring writing community “Open Diary,” starting in 1999, that the writing that makes you truly happy and content is that which you can pour your heart and soul into and not have to be concerned about acceptance or rejection letters from editors. Back I those early days of the Internet, I found a loving and supportive community of fellow personal diarists and essayists who wrote from the heart and commented on my writing from a depth and degree of resonance that frequently triggered memories from their pasts.
I enjoyed the thrill of daily bylines on news and feature stories, and personal weekly columns during the years of my newspaper writing career which ended in 1991, but this experience, satisfying as it was, is nothing compared to the deep, personal joy and satisfaction of writing for an audience that truly cared about me. I didn’t make a penny doing it, but that was never the point of Open Diary and now also Prosebox. I had a stable government job by day, and wrote at night, becoming an entrenched and proud Night Owl. It worked then, and still does, even though I now can write during the day since I’m retired, but still do the bulk of my writing, which is posted here at Substack, at night in the wee hours when my memories, moods and creative juices are flowing in sync.
I love writing, as I know you do also. You are on the right path, and the answers to your prayers seem evident to me as I can ponder your next steps in this entirely different world of writing in the Age of the Internet. As much as the Internet (or is is now written, “internet?”) reviled for sucking up all our time, it has created enormous opportunities, and has led me to write as often as I never in a millions years would have imagined possible, in those long-ago pre-Internet days before I actually had an audience for my writing. For that, I think is what writers also truly crave, readers who are in some way changed, inspired, or simply entertained by a deeply felt and beautifully written and crafted narrative, whether fiction, non-fiction, personal essays or poetry. Personal essays have been my creative outlet and conduit to a sense of freedom intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. And this will always be the case. I am so fortunate to be a writer, as are you.
Thank you for this, Sam! I followed the breadcrumbs here from Ungated and Rob Hardy, and I gotta say that I loved this piece!
Thank your bringing God into the equation and the discussion!
Your journey is similar to my journey and I look forward to seeing your progress!