The Oddest Profession

Guest blog by Stephanie Grace Whitson

I met Stephanie Whitson years ago, at a writers’ retreat. The first thing I noticed about her was her smile–she has one of the kindest, most gentle smiles I’ve ever seen. But what I struck me most about this woman is her wisdom. Stephanie knows the ebb and flow of being a writer, and through it all, she’s exhibited a gracious spirit and a deep wisdom based on God’s truth and call. When she wrote the following recently in an email during a discussion on “success” as a writer, I was so struck by what she wrote that I asked if she’d be willing to share it here, with you. May you be as blessed—and challenged–by it as I was.




Writing is the oddest profession in the universe. Why? Because whether or not I get to keep doing it (in the traditional, royalty-paying part of the world I inhabit) has nothing to do with whether or not I’m good at it. Why? Because the one thing that reigns over my career is sales numbers, and I can’t affect sales enough to impress publishers (i.e., by the tens of thousands). I can build relationships and e-mail newsletters and conference and Facebook and Twitter and blog and teach my little heart out and still hear the words, “We love you. We love your work, but the sales just aren’t good enough. Goodbye.” The truth is, over a writing life that spans nearly twenty years of published Christian fiction and non-fiction, I’ve heard those words more than once.

A close writing friend of mine recently raised the topic of God “thwarting” a writer’s success. Assuming the writer is doing all he or she can to hone their craft, assuming their work ethic is excellent, assuming they are doing all they can … would God still thwart a writer’s success? Well … yes. I think He would. I think He does, because I think God operates with a different dictionary. I think He defines terms in ways I don’t always understand. For example, that word success.

I see success in terms of contracts and sales and best-seller lists and awards and fan letters. Does God? In his recent novel, I Saul, author Jerry Jenkins reminds readers that the apostle Paul spent a lot of years in a hole in the ground. In Paul’s day, a successful public speaker was the guy appearing nightly in the amphitheater. Was Paul a failure? Absolutely not. See what I mean? Different definitions.

Just as God reigned over Paul’s first-century life, so does He reign over mine—including my sales numbers. Could it be that my sales numbers are only one of the tools God uses to move me where He wants me for this season—and then on to the next place in the next season? I have decided to believe that He takes me to readers and editors who need something in what I write, and when He’s delivered it to them, He uses my sales numbers to move me to a new place; not because I have failed, but because I must be in a different place for a particular book to reach a particular reader.

Don’t get me wrong. Even though I believe what I have just written with every part of me, living in light of it is difficult. I still long for success as defined by Merriam Webster (and reviewers and award-givers). However, when I put my hand in the hand of the One who knows … who allows … who plans … who permits … well, then I pray for acceptance of the road He’s guiding me along. I strive to define success in a different way. To see things through His eyes.

And I tremble, because I am weak.

26 Responses to The Oddest Profession

  1. Patrick Craig October 16, 2013 at 5:26 am #

    Really good word, Stephanie, and a great perspective. We always have to remember that God knows what He’s doing even when we don’t.

  2. Andrea Nell October 16, 2013 at 5:49 am #

    Wow. This is a spectacular post. Thanks for these encouraging words, Stephanie. I think I might have to bookmark this and reread it every time a rejection letter arrives in my email.

  3. Sandra Orchard October 16, 2013 at 5:52 am #

    Thank you for sharing this, Stephanie. We serve an awesome God and as a writer, and I am so grateful that we can rest in his will and his grace, knowing that he has a plan and purpose in all things as we persevere in writing the stories he lays on our hearts.

  4. Louise Gouge October 16, 2013 at 6:04 am #

    Thanks for this wonderful post, Stephanie. God is in charge, and that’s a good thing.

  5. Sherri Shackelford October 16, 2013 at 6:14 am #

    Beautifully said!

  6. Connie Almony October 16, 2013 at 6:37 am #

    Oh Stephanie, when you talk of seasons I think of a Christian fiction novel I read a while back called “Walks the Fire.” It was written by … uh … what was that name again … oh, you! I remember thinking about the seasons in the main character’s life and how God used each one, just as you talk about here. It gave me such a peace, allowing me to not fear changes that WILL come, but to embrace them as a new time, remembering God knows the whole plan. It was the first time I could really do that. Thanks for the inspiration!
    I also love your reference to Paul in the pit. He mentions in his letters that he will disappoint people with his lack of ability to speak. I often wonder what he thought his letters were about. Could he have had ANY clue that his greatest ministry, reaching the most people over centuries of time, would occur when he was in jail and had personal contact with so few?
    Thanks again for the glimpse of what God sees.

  7. Derick Shawn Farris October 16, 2013 at 7:03 am #

    This is very inspirational. As a Christian writer we are supposed to glorify the kingdom. That means God is allowing us to be successful enough to reach the people He wants. I want to be a NY Times Best Seller. But the Kingdom comes first!

  8. Cheryl Barker October 16, 2013 at 7:06 am #

    Stephanie, this a wonderful perspective. It comes down to trusting God, doesn’t it? Trusting that He knows what’s best for us and trusting that He will use our work in the way He knows is best as well. Yes, seeing through His eyes indeed.

  9. Donna Geesey October 16, 2013 at 7:10 am #

    Thank you so much, Stephanie, for these words. Your wisdom and grace are such a blessing. Thank you for the reminder that we are truly writing for an audience of one.

  10. Esther Thompson October 16, 2013 at 7:11 am #

    I’m not a talented writer. I type the words and thoughts God gives me. Without His inspiration my pages would remain empty. I pray,that like Stephanie, my fiction writing will touch someone’s searching soul. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Stephen Schwambach October 16, 2013 at 7:14 am #

    Oh, Stephanie. You’ve nailed it. Thank you.

  12. Susan Gregory October 16, 2013 at 7:19 am #

    Thank you.

  13. Anita Ojeda October 16, 2013 at 7:32 am #

    Thank you for hte inspiring reminder that God uses a different measuring stick, and that his way is the ONLY way that matters. Your writing is your offering and sacrifice–your only job is to bring it to the alter. I love your books, I’ve just been too lazy to encourage you and tell you that I’ve found inspiriing words that I needed to hear at different points in my life through the words that God has led you to write. So, write on, Sister!

  14. Jeanne Takenaka October 16, 2013 at 7:57 am #

    Beautifully spoken, Stephanie. I try to keep the perspective that God’s timing is always perfect on this writing journey. I think I need to add to that, His successes for me are what I need to measure “success” by, not by what I see others gaining. Loved this.

  15. KT Sweet October 16, 2013 at 8:34 am #

    Thank you, Stephanie, for the reminder. Fruitfulness in the LORD’s eyes looks so different from my definition and/or the world’s. Sometimes a hard lesson to embrace. I keep praying for His wisdom, discipline and understanding.

  16. Ron Estrada October 16, 2013 at 9:08 am #

    Well said, Stephanie. I believe God moved me away from writing over the last few years. I found myself involved in the tea party movement, which will definately consume your free time. But I learned a lot in those few years. I spent a great deal of time learning what it meant to be a conservative and a Christian in America. All of this knowledge is now translating into my fiction. I think God molds us before He sends us into the ministry field. Now I’m back writing with a vengance, and feel that I really have a story to tell, but God’s story, not mine.

  17. Micky Wolf October 16, 2013 at 9:37 am #

    Beautiful. Simply beautiful.

  18. Mary Hosmar October 16, 2013 at 9:46 am #

    thank you for those words.

  19. Terrance Leon Austin October 16, 2013 at 10:01 am #

    Thanks Stephanie. This post is helpful to me in the sense that I can write my best work (in my estimation) and truly post or mention that it is for the kingdom of GOD while excepting his definition of success. A writer does not need “thick skin” to handle rejections. He/she only need to trust that if it be of GOD, it will gain his meaning of success. Bless you Stephanie.

  20. Jennifer Dyer October 16, 2013 at 10:54 am #

    Thanks for the great reminder. I was reading in Luke 14:12-14 this morning and thinking the same thing. Sometimes we do not feel success in this world, but if our ultimate goal is bringing others closer to Jesus, then our true rewards and success are stored in Heaven. The rewards of the Father will never be lost in a stock market crash or endangered by low sales numbers. It doesn’t matter what the rewards are. What matters is that Jesus is honored.

  21. J.D. Maloy October 16, 2013 at 10:58 am #

    Mrs. Whitson, your servants heart if felt and your Christ centered perspective is inspiring. May you dance, smile and laugh in the showers of the Lord’s amazing love. Thank you for keeping it real, sister!

  22. Anne Love October 16, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    Wonderful breath of wisdom and humility.

  23. Jaime Wright October 17, 2013 at 8:31 am #

    Just coming off of a rejection letter. I needed this TREMENDOUSLY this morning. Back in the saddle now. God’s definition of success isn’t mine. ALL FOR HIS GLORY!! Because what else matters? I’m going to reread this about three more times now, get off my pity party, and hit my knees (or my face) to the floor and humble myself before an ALL-KNOWING I AM!

    • Rebecca Lorraine Walker October 17, 2013 at 10:56 am #

      Jaime, such a sweet post. I’ll say a prayer for you. God is walking with you. Persevere. If he has called us, he will equip us. May God bless your writing and bring you success defined by him. He’s teaching us to follow him. It’s a lovely journey as we learn to trust him more.

  24. Rebecca Lorraine Walker October 17, 2013 at 10:49 am #

    Stephanie, what an awesome post! Fantastic and right on. We are working for Him and He is the one who will deliver our message to the intended recipient through whichever channel he chooses. Even if our books never reach the top of the charts, what if one soul receives life-changing encouragement? The price cannot be measured by our earthy sense of success. Heaven will show the real facts. Thank you for a powerful post. Thank God for agents who encourage us on this journey and are sensitive to the placement of our work. Yay, Karen, for sharing this post! A sweet shout out to Tamela Hancock Murray!

  25. Miranda October 21, 2013 at 12:20 am #

    So glad I read this! Really needed to hear this right now. So many times in situations I’ve asked, ‘what is wrong? For God’s sake, I’ve done everything right!’ It could be really frustrating. But being reminded that God is in control has made my day. Indeed, a man makes plans in his heart, but it is the Lord that chooses his path.

    I pray God gives me the strength to walk in the straight path He has laid out before me. (Prov. 3: 5-6).

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