I gasped when I saw the description of the podcast episode. An author was being interviewed about their soon-to-be-released book. Nothing remarkable there. But the subject of the book was a topic I had been thinking, teaching, and writing about for a couple of years.
That author stole my book idea!
Not really, of course. I was being dramatic. This author didn’t know me and likely had never caught a whiff of my writing. And it’s not like I had a book in the works. I hadn’t even written a book proposal. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to write a book!
But learning about this other book seemed to slam shut a door of possibility.
A Writer’s Jealousy
This happened several years ago, and I’ve only recently started to interrogate the anger and frustration I felt. I was disproportionately downcast.
First, it’s absurd to think there couldn’t be multiple books on the same topic. But the anger I felt was (I think) born of jealousy. I wanted to be the source of wisdom on that particular topic. Any spotlight—such as it might have been—was too small to share. I wanted it all.
Beyond being massively self-centered, this was sin—pure, distilled, 200-proof. Wanting to be the only authority or source of knowledge about a topic is trying to put myself in the place of God. It’s idolatry. It’s the tower of Babel.
Finally, this desire was self-contradictory. If this project were successful, more people would be interested in this topic and would talk about it to others. Would I resent them if they didn’t trace the intellectual lineage back to me? Did I care about the topic at all, or was it just a tool I would have used to pursue my own glory?
Writing to Serve
Looking back on this incident has made me ask some fundamental questions, including Why do I write?
God gives gifts to his people so that they might serve others, and this is the spirit in which I want to write. I want to use any skill I have in communication or writing to instruct, help, encourage, and strengthen others. And all of it to the glory of God.
If I am to serve readers, wouldn’t I joyfully point them to others with sound, helpful ideas? Even, maybe especially, ideas which overlap with, correct, or build upon my own? Wouldn’t I resist all urges to develop in others a dependence on me? Wouldn’t I rejoice in the truth communicated in love, no matter from which keyboard it sprang?
I don’t know if the possessiveness I felt about “my” idea is one that is shared by other teachers or writers. But that possessive impulse is opposed to the goals of teaching, opposed to the gospel, and opposed to God.
If other writers have felt this pull and learned to deal with it, I’d love to hear those thoughts. Feel free to leave a comment below.
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