Christian author Eugene Peterson wrote a book called A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. He explains where he got that phrase. Christians, he says, are looking for quick results, but shortcuts don’t lead to Christian maturity.
Peterson writes, “Friedrich Nietzsche, who saw this area of spiritual truth at least with great clarity, wrote, ‘The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is . . . that there should be long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.” Peterson argues that the world discourages this “long obedience in the same direction.”
Commit to a Long Obedience in the Same Direction
Anything worth doing will ideally be something that also makes life worth living. I’ve concluded writing is worth doing and is part of what makes life worth living.
I don’t want to waste my life. I don’t want you to, either. So if anyone tells you a writing life is a wasted life, don’t listen to them. Resolve, instead, to a long obedience in the same direction—write and keep writing, and see where it leads.
You may very well find positive results, and I hope you will. Will you get exactly what you hope for? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on what you hope for. If you hope for bestseller status and seven-figure advances, that may not be where your obedience takes you. Even the dream of seeing a single book in print one day is not guaranteed by a long obedience in the same direction.
I do believe, however, your faithful work as a writer will give you a life worth living.
The writer who stays faithful—showing up to write the stories, to steward the message, to pass along the truths—will find that she can look back on her life with satisfaction regardless of the results.
And yet you very well may find that your efforts lead to success in a short time frame—if so, I’m happy for you! Just be careful, though, because it can be tempting to sort of sit back and feel you’ve arrived or to fear you’ll never achieve such impressive results again.
I urge you to avoid either of those responses. Don’t rest on your laurels or fear you got your 15 minutes of fame and that’s it, time’s up.
Stay Faithful: Keep Showing Up, Keep Writing
Instead, build on that early success and if for some reason, you don’t see continued success, write anyway. Stick with that long obedience in the same direction. Keep at it. Keep showing up. Keep writing.
The world praises quick results and discourages long obedience in the same direction. Someone or some message will try to convince you it’s not worth it to stick with this writing life over the long haul.
They’ll point you to a shortcut that leads to a dead end.
They’ll tell you to hang up your pen if you don’t see fast results.
Stop dreaming, they’ll say. You’re not experienced enough or talented enough or clever enough or savvy enough. Stop wasting your time, they’ll say.
But you’ll know.
You’ll know that writing is worth sticking with, day after day—that “there thereby results something which has made life worth living.”
Ann Patchett says, “Writing is a miserable, awful business. Stay with it. It is better than anything in the world.”
A long obedience in the same direction, for a writer, is hard work. And at times it can be a miserable, awful business.
Stay with it.
And you can join with Ann Patchett and countless others, and attest that writing is better than anything in the world.
You’ll find that faithfully showing up today, tomorrow, and the next day and the next week and the next month and the next year to write and share what’s written . . . was never, ever a waste of time. It was, instead, worth every minute, and gave you a life worth living.
To listen to the full episode, click on the podcast player above or use subscription options below.
- Eugene Peterson’s book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (affiliate link)
- Ep 89: The Rush to Publish – How to Pace Your Career
- Ep 87: You Can Impact Readers Right Now Through Social Media
- Ep 88: How to Develop Your Own Self-Study Writing Course
- Ann Patchett on Writing as Miserable
- Dare to Write
- Ep 33: Start with Three Sentences
- Source: – Peterson, Eugene. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. First Edition published in Downer’s Grove, IL, by Inter-Varsity Press, 1980. Second edition published by Eugene Peterson, 2000. (p. 17)
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