Already, at age ten, you are a decorated author.
I’m proud of you—at your age, I had neither the courage nor the persistence to enter a young author contest. And, of course, I’m thrilled for you—it is a joyous thing when a writer’s risk is rewarded with some recognition. But I guess I’m also concerned for you, because in my short career as a writer, I’ve learned something about writing and about living:
Why we write is why we live.
I don’t mean that we live to write. As Stephen King wrote, “Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” What I mean is, while we are writing, we are also becoming. While we are writing, we are entering into a space within ourselves, and when we are done writing, we go out and live from that space. So, if you write honestly, you will live more honestly. If you write tenderly, you will speak more tenderly. If you write bravely, you will love more bravely.
And if you write to make your dad proud of you, your whole life will become a pride project.
Dear Son, not all reasons for writing and creating—and doing anything, really—are created equal. Don’t write because it gets my attention or anyone’s attention. Don’t write because you want to be popular or admired. Don’t write to make a name for yourself, and really don’t write to make money for yourself. Approval, attention, admiration, affluence. These are not bad things, but they are temporary things. Terrific things, really, but also transient things.
Don’t write to achieve temporal things; write to approach transcendent things.
I haven’t been writing for very long, but I’ve been writing long enough to spend too much time writing for too many of the wrong reasons. Yet, every once in a while, when I’m writing, I stumble into this thin place between worlds—a space where what is luminous and lovely and lurking behind all things, around all things, and within all things can almost be glimpsed. In that place, I find myself writing for better reasons…
Write because it brings you joy. The joy of getting lost in something, the joy of unhinging yourself from time and space for a little while. Writing isn’t something you do, it’s a way of being, and it is a deep, deep joy to simply be, and to be free, if only for a little while.
Write because it humbles you. When I wrote my first book, at the top of every chapter, I wrote these words, “Let me write through you to them.” Who is the “me” that writes through your dad? Is it the Muse or Creativity itself or God or Love or Light? Yes. It is. It is an honor to translate, and humbling to know I am only translating. Write because you are both bigger and smaller than you can possibly imagine.
Write because, sometimes—a lot of times—it feels like work. It’s easy to float through life, dancing from one activity to another, in the endless search for that which feels endlessly fun. It doesn’t exist. No matter what you do with your life, it will require a lot of work and at least a little bit of suffering. Let writing dash your hopes for easiness, and then keep writing because you love it enough to suffer for it anyway.
Write because you are listening to your life. When I get too focused on writing, I cease to be truly alive. Live first and write later, because life shows you what to write. Writing is a way of praying about what has happened to you. So, pay attention to your world and get quiet with what you’ve heard and seen. Then, write so you can tell others about the mystery you’ve witnessed.
Write because the longer you listen to your life, the closer it draws you to the goodness at the heart of all things. We are wired to notice the problems and the pain of this life; we write to notice everything else. Brokenness is blatant; goodness is subtle. Yet the more we listen to our life—Frederick Buechner’s words, not mine—the more attuned we become to the better reality undergirding all things. Write to tune in.
And, finally, write to be you. Perhaps you are reading this letter and it sounds like bunk and you can think of a dozen better reasons to write. In that case, tear up this letter, write down your reasons, and write to be more like you, not more like me. Or don’t write at all. Figure out what else you want to create and go create it. Either way, at the end of my life, I will be proud to call you my son.
Not because of what you’ve done, but because of who you are.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
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Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.