It was the end of May, and I received an email from a friend.

I really want to work on my writing this summer. I was very convicted/inspired by this blog post. If you can think of any writing thing to work through together to get better I would love the suggestion.

I was intrigued. Certainly I was not under the delusion that my writing was perfect, that I had nothing further to learn about the craft. And I had been thinking, myself, about experimenting more with collaborative writing. But then I clicked through to the blog post my friend referenced.

A World Short on Masters” was posted by author Russ Ramsey at The Rabbit Room. In the piece, he discusses a story of the master Dutch painter Rembrandt. Though Rembrandt is known as one of the greatest painters in history, he himself was aware of his limitations, that he couldn’t “paint the way they want me to paint.”

So rather than focus on what he couldn’t do, he became a master at what he could: painting and painting to become the best Rembrandt he could be. But to what end? Ramsey offers this explanation:

For what? For mastery. And why? For joy, because the mastery of something leads to a greater enjoyment of it. Singers, musicians, painters, writers, athletes and artists of all stripes know this. The harder we work at something, the more we are able to enjoy it. Rembrandt knew it too. Later he would advise, “Practice what you know, and it will help to make clear what now you do not know.” Annie Dillard said it another way: “Who will teach me to write? The page, the page, that eternal blankness.”

hand editing

I have been writing long enough and often enough to realize what I can’t do. But I had not yet been inspired to take what I can do to the next level, to do the work to be the best Charity I can be as a writer.

Most of the leg work for preparing me for this master training had been prompted by the Lord over the past several months. The process of emptying my life that began early this year helped me clear my schedule, making more time to write. My increased involvement with online communities like theHighCalling.org has given me more opportunities to write. And ironically, my recent cancer recurrence has given me more to write about.

Now, I’m ready for the joy. I’m ready for the joy that results from coming to the screen, the page, day after day, the joy that comes from pushing myself in the craft of writing. It’s not so much about tackling skills I don’t have. It’s about mastering the skills I already have by investing the time, learning from others, and not giving up, even when I feel like it.

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I intended to write this post three months ago. In fact, I started it on June 2, just a few days after my friend first sent me the link. But the idea of becoming a master writer was something I needed to sit with for a while. And then, the cancer came. It’s not a good time to work on becoming a better writer when I have appointments and scans and surgeries and radiation to go through, I reasoned.

But something unusual has been happening over the past few weeks. Instead of shrinking back during this season of trial, the Lord is giving me confidence to engage, to keep writing honestly and to push through the inclination to self-protect. In the process, I have unwittingly begun the master journey.

And then there is LL Barkat‘s new book, Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing. I knew I would get the book early and read it quickly because LL is a friend, and her writing is always good. But I had no idea that the book itself would be framed as a master training program for writers, or that she would address the very issues that keep writers like me from taking their art to the next level.

Maybe now is not a good time to really commit myself to becoming a master writer. Or maybe now is exactly the right time to commit to this pursuit.

Maybe the joy awaiting me by coming to the page day after day is actually the strength of the Lord to see me through this and other seasons of sorrow.

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Russ Ramsey ended his post with an invitation. I end this post with the same.

What are you mastering? What are you practicing in order to make clear what you don’t yet know? If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you reach points where you begin to wonder if it might just be easier to plateau. And if not plateau, then quit altogether.Don’t. Please. This world is short on masters, and consequently short on joy too.

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What’s next? Want to join me in my master training?

Photo by lowjumpingfrog, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.