To state the obvious, when writing a blog, or anything for that matter, a writer must always bear in mind his or her intended audience. For whom am I writing? It is equally important to ask oneself what one desires the outcome of one’s writing to be. For what am I writing? To what end?
These questions have been raised for me afresh because, well, I’ve started writing again. And I have found myself relapsing into old, bad habits. If you are as vain as I am, the writing of a blog entails innumerable temptations: the temptations to self-promote, to be pompous, to say incendiary things just to gain readers, to be uncharitable towards those with whom I differ. I’ve fallen into all of these temptations at one time or another. In fact, after moving to New York I took a long hiatus from writing at all because I knew that my writing habits were making me less and less of the sort of person I wanted to be, the sort of person I ought to be, the only sort of person that, at the end of the day, is worth trying to be: A person marked deeply by faith, hope, and, above all, love.
In his book New Seeds of Contemplation the great 20th century Catholic author and contemplative Thomas Merton writes,
If you write for God you will reach many men and bring them joy.
If you write for men—you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world, for a little while.
If you write only for yourself you can read what you yourself have written and after ten minutes you will be so disgusted you will wish that you were dead.
When I look back on many of the posts I have written over the years I find myself disgusted. All too often I have written things in the vain hope of making a noise in the world, even if it is only for a very little while. All of this is motivated by a deep-seated fear that I will not matter, that no one will hear my voice or care what I think or notice if I disappear. I think we all feel that way sometimes, and we wrap around ourselves achievements and accolades and snazzy clothing to prevent ourselves from becoming invisible, and therefore insignificant. Most inflammatory blog titles are really only saying one thing, “Look at me! Look at me!”
In my last post, I feel like I gave into that temptation a bit. I had written a post that I felt was good in and of itself, saying something I believe to be good and true and beautiful. But that wasn’t enough. I wanted people to read what I had to say (or else, what’s the point of writing it?), and so I added an opening paragraph throwing barbs at the so-called Christian film industry. My negative comments helped illustrate the point I wanted to make, I suppose, but I don’t think they were really necessary. The Epistle to Diognetus is profound enough on its own, and, upon further reflection, I think my cantankerous cheap shots at the evangelical film industry only cheapened my invocation of that venerable, ancient voice. It’s not that I didn’t actually believe what I said, or that I don’t actually agree with Wilkinson’s critique of films aimed at “the faith audience.” Rather, it’s that what I said was not inspired by what I believe most deeply at my best moments.
And so I want to make a pledge: From here on I intend to write for God. I intend to write, to the best of my ability, what is true, good, and beautiful in and of itself. I intend to resist my hankering after a wider readership, and instead to write good posts regardless of whether anyone reads them. I intend to write, first and foremost, for God and to let you listen in on our conversation, and I hope that I will bring some of you joy thereby.