Back before I’d ever published anything, I used to think about all the books in the Library of Congress or even just look at all the books on the market. And I’d think, “Do we really need another novel?” “Why yet another book on marriage,” or “Why would someone want to publish another Bible study on Sermon on the Mount?”
What I came to know years later was that each author has a unique perspective on his or her own era. It was said of the men from Issachar that they “understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron. 12:32).
Each author also has a unique sphere of influence, which provides a platform through which some readers are more apt to hear from that author than from others—even if the others are more eloquent. So, there will always be a need for more books, new books, even on “old” topics. Richard Baxter wrote wonderful stuff about spiritual formation for Puritan audiences, and it stirs me when I read his words today. Yet, I still love reading about the same topics covered by Eugene Peterson, Calvin Miller, and Ruth Haley Barton. Not only have these people lived in my own time, but I have also had the honor of interviewing both men and, well—Ruth painted my toenails on my wedding day before slipping into her bridesmaid dress.
My mentor, Dr. Elizabeth Inrig, now living in Redlands, California, is someone whose name I might never have heard had she not served our church in Dallas. Yet having sat under her teaching and seen the way she and her husband, Gary, live out their faith—and cared for me through some difficult days—I approach her written works with a particular openness to learn.
Because of this, every year I exhort my students to go ahead and write on topics that interest them or in the genres they love, even if someone else has already written something better.
Several years ago, after hearing me talk about this, one of my students showed up the next week with a quote that I have since cherished. It’s from St. Augustine in his De Trinitate (On the Trinity), translated by Edmund Hill:
Not everything … that is written by anybody comes into the hands of everybody, and it is possible that some who are in fact capable of understanding even what I write may not come across those more intelligible writings, while they do at least happen upon these of mine. That is why it is useful to have several books by several authors, even on the same subjects, differing in style though not in faith, so that the matter itself may reach as many as possible, some in this way others in that.
My advice, then, if you are at all inclined to write, is this: Do it. Don’t let that voice telling you someone else has “already done it better” hold you back. Perhaps that better-written book will never make it into the hands of one of your readers, and you will get to be the fortunate soul through whom someone’s life is forever changed.