you-can't-write-from-an-empty-inkwell

You Can’t Write From an Empty Inkwell

Jana Carlson

Jana Carlson

Keeping our spiritual inkwells full helps Christian writers find continuous inspiration and prevent creative stagnancy. Choosing our "ink" wisely helps too.

It’s perplexing that a writer who writes for the glory of God could lack something to write about. Our God is the Creator of the universe, so we don’t even have to look beyond our own bodies to find inspiration that displays His glory. And yet, for all of us, seasons of creative dryness are at least an occasional reality. 

Even when we have ideas to write about, the weight of responsibility that comes with representing Christ through the power of words can feel heavy. There’s wisdom in taking our time before sharing a piece of writing, but sometimes our hesitation, procrastination, or resistance to writing is a sign of a deeper issue. 

Maybe the words are the feeble scrapings from the bottom of the barrel—crumbs and crusts instead of fresh fruit. 

Or perhaps we lack confidence in our words because they’re coming from our heads instead of our hearts. We’re not writing from a place of conviction. Even if we know the words are true, maybe we don’t really know why. 

Where Our Words Come From

Here’s the thing…

You can’t write from an empty inkwell. 

It’s a dated piece of advice. Most of us don’t use inkwells to write with pen and paper anymore. But the principle holds true today. You can’t write if your pen is out of ink or your pencil is out of lead or your laptop battery is dead. 

But I’m not talking about the physical tools you use for writing. 

Jesus said in Matthew 12:34 that our words come from what’s in our hearts. Our hearts are like our inkwells. Whatever is inside our hearts is what will come out as words on the page. 

James talks about this in his passage about the tongue. He says in chapter 3:12 (NLT), “Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.

This is an elementary concept, but we often forget about it and approach writing for God’s glory as an exception to this very basic principle. We fill the inkwell of our hearts with things that are contrary to what we hope comes out. Or we allow our inkwells to dry up, then wonder why we run out of words or why we don’t have the energy or inspiration we need to write well. 

How to Fill Your Inkwell

In Reflecting Christ Without Even Trying, I wrote about how we become what we behold—our character is shaped by what holds our attention. This happens without effort on our part. It’s automatic. But we can be intentional about who we become by being intentional about what we behold. 

Similarly, our words are formed by what fills our hearts. This happens without effort on our part. It’s automatic. But we can be intentional about the words we produce by being intentional about what we fill our hearts with. 

If we desire to write words that glorify God, we must keep our spiritual inkwells full of God-glorifying ink. 

Let’s get super practical. 

  • If I want to write words that reflect God’s Word, I need to fill up on God’s Word. This means I need to actually consume the Bible—read it, study it, memorize it, meditate on it. 
  • If I want to craft paragraphs and sentences of quality and excellence, I need to consume quality, excellent writing. 
  • If I want my vocabulary to exceed that of a third-grader, I need to consume content that’s created for a more mature audience. 

Let me give you a glimpse of what this looks like in my own life. 

Bible Time, Journaling, and Application

Time in God’s Word is a priority for me. I take time each day to at least read the Bible, but preferably, to dig deeper with some studying and memorization. I meditate on it by writing notes about what I read or study—observing what it says, asking questions of the text, and applying what I’ve learned to my own life. 

This practice has given me dozens of notebooks filled with priceless nuggets I’ve gleaned from God’s Word. Those pages are an invaluable source of inspiration for my writing. Often, the words I share with my readers are words that first found their place on the pages of my devotional journals. 

The call to write for God’s glory is a call to live for God’s glory, because God is not glorified by hypocrisy, empty words, or phoniness. This is why the application part of my daily devotions is so vital. I make a point of writing about what I live—not perfectly, but actively. 

Learning from Quality Entertainment

There’s so much room for improvement in my writing! I have lots to learn, but limited time and resources. So I’m quite selective about the books and online content I read and watch. I choose books with high-quality writing, inspiring and remarkable characters, redemptive themes, and an admirable vocabulary. 

For online content, I avoid scrolling through automatically generated feeds. Instead, I use Feedly to handpick the websites I want to consume content from, and I’m extremely stingy about the social media accounts I follow.

Just as I seek to apply what I learn from the Bible to my own life and in my writing, I try to apply things I learn from the media I consume. When I encounter something that’s exceptionally well written, I take time to observe why the writing is so good. What did the writer do that I don’t do or don’t do well? How can I emulate that in my own work? 

More Ways to Fill Your Inkwell

I also fill my spiritual inkwell by spending plenty of time in nature, observing God’s handiwork, and with people who nourish me, inspire me, challenge me, and make me laugh. 

What about you? How do you fill your inkwell? I’d love to read about it in the comments!

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