Recently a young friend posted on facebook the first things he planned to buy when he got royalties from the book he was beginning to write. Another would-be writer countered that he (the unhatched writer who was counting chickens as first-class aviary empire) had better wait till his beard was long and knotty before he started counting the dividends. I chuckled, because I know exactly the feeling (though have never grown a beard, smooth or knotty). Have dreamed of writing three or four Books and Culture top of the list Christian non-fiction bestsellers, as well as a New York Times fiction blockbuster since I was thirteen or fourteen, and over fifty years of my life have gone by without any of those goals being even closely reached. This does not mean that I haven’t inscribed, penned, typed, composed or digitated on personal computer any literary and life-building gems over the years – actually all I do these days (besides caring for beloved people by cooking, cleaning, gardening, putting up with anything that has to be done around our place) is read and write. Have translated over one hundred Christian books from English to Portuguese, three from Portuguese to English, a couple from Spanish to Portuguese and one big architectural manual from French to Portuguese. Still dream of producing memorable reads, and have published six books of my own as well as numerous articles over the years, but am far from being known as an author. Better known as Lau’s wife or mother of Davi (or Deborah or Daniel, depending on the social circle in which I’m mentioned) and now, grandmother of ... (won’t mention names because all seven are important young people who plan to make a difference in this wonderful fallen world)!

Back to my theme (one of my pet peeves is the tendency to run around in circles with facts, motives, thoughts and dreams), being a writer or would-be author may be the major activity in my life, but I must admit that it won’t yield much money. Here in Brazil, translations for Christian publishers are paid by the 1200-pica page, and my own books get slim royalties that do not cover the cost for having a cleaning lady once a week for the six months or more it takes to write one book.  Certainly, there are best-selling authors who buy mansions and BMW’s and get their names dropped at every party of wannabe intellectuals even in Brazil (like Paulo Coelho or defunct Jorge Amado), but they don’t write Christian books, and I do not dig for ungodly treasures. The market my husband and I write for has no booths in vanity fair – we aim for ministry, service to the body of believers and the host of unbelievers who may seek the Word of Life by some word we might communicate. Many of these unbelievers are the best thinkers and kindest doers I know, and some believers we know are unbelievably clumsy when it comes to thinking logically and biblically, but we do try to reach, teach and transform lives, and that mission marks our words. Whether read by a hundred or ten thousand, if ten people can be impacted for eternity as well as for times like these, I will count it all joy.

Just got a message from my editor asking me to give my account number so they can deposit the payment of my “author’s rights”. Last time I was paid for my “rights” it was a couple of hundred dollars. Royalties? More like serfities! Maybe made a thousand reais over the fifteen most recent years. We do get paid for what we sell, but with illness curtailing seminars and speaking engagements, sales from our books are pretty meager. My facebook acquaintance can let his beard grow for a good many years before the eggs get golden.

A couple of years ago I took an American course in writing and publishing for the Christian USA market, with the hope of breaking into print in the evangelical arena there. A modest advance for a book there would yield the money needed as down-payment to publish and advertise two books for the Christian market in Brazil, so I pursued that goal, with no results. I could not honestly say I had an audience of  ten thousand where I could speak and be heard in America. So, no sale – yet. (Did publish an article in a Sunday School take-home paper there.) Actresses and soccer players become authorities overnight even if the inane things they say cannot fill the heart and brain of an ant, but years of wisdom and service to God’s people count as nothing in the religious publishing world. I am a writer, but have no authority as a thinker and doer who makes a difference. I do not yearn for greatness or fame – only faithfulness and steadfastness in what and how I communicate. But I must learn – anew – that writing is not about ME, that I am not the author or even transcriber of good words.

The wisest of kings of Israel, Solomon, who wanted to be known throughout posterity as a Teacher not only was wise, but also knowledgeable in communicating knowledge to people. Ecclesiastes (12:9-14) says of Koheleth:

“He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true. The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails-- given by one Shepherd.”  

 That is the deep desire of any writer who believes the word of our Shepherd. Like any who plan to write balancing realism and hope, he must add a warning:

 Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

Goads and firmly embedded nails are a gift from above. No writer today is divinely inspired like Moses, David, Ezra or Apostle Paul or Dr. Luke. Yet each writer who wants to communicate godly wisdom will be judged not just by what she or he writes, but how he and she think or live—every hidden thing, whether good or evil, emerges in some way!

That is contrary to what post-modern writers of today—literary theorists, best-selling authors, Pulitzer journalists or tabloid gossipers—say about good writing. My grandsons’ teacher says that what the writer writes really does not matter, because each reader “owns” what he or she interprets, emptying any meaning the original author intended to give. One boy turned to his teacher commenting, “Well then, I can give any answer on any test any way I want, because as the reader, once it has been published, I own what the writer says, and my interpretation is as good as the next one’s.” The instructor replied, “No you can not. You have to read what I said, know what I taught and do exactly what is expected in my class. What I just affirmed is literary theory—exclusively outside the classroom and grades spectrum!”  

The teenage students came home outraged at the foolishness their teacher proposed, and immediately dug into their books on Philosophy by Christian thinkers. Which goads me to thinking about the matter of authors and authorities. In my own  teenage years, I wanted to question any authority—especially if someone was “lording it over me”. Even today I cringe when someone writes as if her words were written on stone tablets. A writer who communicates well does not shove opinions down my throat or treat me like a proverbial dumb blonde. We abhor prejudiced know-it-alls who do not respect readers and consider as mute emptyheads those who read their magnanimous postulations.

Good ideas have to precede good writing, and the only Supreme Authority is the Creator of every good gift (James 1:17)—any other creator is an imitator, no matter how much she tries to be original. God creates from nothing—we create from something the Creator has already thought, declared or done through timeless eternity! Even highly-educated, knowledgeable writers don’t know it all, and any authority they have is conceded by authorities higher than they are.

I have a friend who gushes adjectives and adverbs in torrents of verbosity, but ignores any relationship that has caused pain. Consequently, she has very little to say about what really matters in life. She doesn’t understand why her articles aren’t published—her double major and master’s degrees make her an authority in Language, but don’t produce the author she wants to be. Other friends, deficiently educated, are always attuned to life-changing ideas linked to people they love—these are perpetual learners who express themselves beautifully. Sometimes I wish I had thought or said exactly what they shared. Even their often sparse everyday conversation is never trite!

Writers of the Old Testament did not simply relate history or facts of Jewish life. The book of Ezra is about books and decrees by pagan rulers—fitting subject matter for an author well-versed in the Law of Moses as well as the history and laws of Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians and the kings, advisers and powerful officials of the Middle Eastern world. But what has been documented for three thousand years about this maven writer-priest is recorded in Ezra 7:9 and 10:

 For the gracious hand of his God was on him.  For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.

Same goes for Daniel, another wise thinker who did not write exclusively for God’s people, but inclusively for several dynasties that ruled the world. Abducted from among young princes of Judah to Babylon, God gave  knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds” (1:17)  through Daniel’s time as advisor to Darius, king of Persia, to whom he foretold the future Greek dominion, this Hebrew prince humbly wrote about events that would shatter the known world. Though they came from all walks of life—princes and cowherds were equally prophets, there were also kings unequaled in literary genius—the shepherd warrior poet David, and Schlomo, his highly educated-genius-philosopher-teacher compiler of proverbs and collector of wives.

The Gospels narrate the encounters between Jesus and the people around him, many times expressing admiration that he spoke, taught, healed, forgave, expelled demons with authority—not as their scribes (Matthew 7:29; Mark 1:22; Luke 4:32). Their writers, the educated men whose living was based on the Book, who postulated on ever jot and tittle of the Law, did not have authority when it came to living out their faith. Instead, they were like whitened tombs! After the resurrection, the disciples were invested with authority to speak boldly and impact their world for change, beginning in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Peter the Coward spoke and wrote movingly. Murderous Saul mellowed into a writer of letters that build and multiply the visible and invisible church to this day. A son of thunder became the Apostle of love. Incredible writers all, you can believe it!

I’ve read much about writing, and written a lot about what I’ve read over the years, and have to admit I still have eons to learn. Simultaneously more pointed as well as more softened in what I write, wish I were an author with authority, but have to settle to being scribe and translator, though I will continue writing and producing good reads, better in each article or book! Tips have been many, some useless, others priceless, but if I want to write with eternity’s values in view, it has to be like the anonymous writer of Hebrews (who, by the way, wrote several things about authority and authorship):

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Elizabeth Gomes

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