(Part of a series applying the Prayer of St. Ephraim to the writer’s life, and considering where I can improve.)

Grant not unto me a spirit of idleness,
of discouragement,
of lust for power,
and of vain speaking.

Writers are powerless. Everyone knows this. We are the playthings of editors, agents, publishers and buyers. We are buffeted by the cruel winds of the market. Vast, capricious forces determine whether our books and stories will sell. We have no control over our fate. So why should “lust for power” be a writer’s vice?

Well, for starters, writers aren’t completely powerless. We do have one power: the power to tell a great story. This is not a power that we should give up. I think that the key word in the prayer here is “lust”. The problem is not that writers have or do not have power. It’s that we want the power that is not, and never will be, in our grasp, namely the power to ensure our success.

Why do so many writers go ballistic when they get rejected? Why do writers occasionally lash out against critics? Why do the self-published writers condemn the traditional publishers for cowardice? Why do the traditionally published folks condemn the self-published for unprofessionalism? I’m not talking here about legitimate criticisms or disagreement, I’m talking about the over-the-top nutty-butter insane things that litter the inboxes of agents and editors and spill out on the internet with depressing regularity. I propose that what’s going wrong with these people is the lust for power. These are writers who believe that they deserve success for having published good books before, or having gotten an MFA, or merely having completed a story. So when anyone, whether it be a publisher or an editor or a reader, comes along and refuses to give them what they deserve, they simply lose it.

This is the lust for power. You will never, ever be able to force someone to like your writing, no matter how good it is. As writers we all want acceptance and success, but it is never in our power to simple take it. When we feel that we deserve to have success, and that those who disagree are merely obstacles to be destroyed, we are engaging in the lust of power.

We still have the power to tell a great story. That’s the only power we need.

Next time: vain speaking.

We cannot have a world without structures of power, though we might wish for it. But if we must have power, what sort of power should we have? How should power present itself?

We go looking for one kind of powerful man, and we find a king wearing sumptuous robes and carrying a glittering staff. He blasts trumpets and pounds drums at his approach and wafts incense in his wake. When we come to supplicate him, he demands our prostration and does not forget for a moment that he is powerful, and we are not.

This is the best kind of power. First, because it is easy to find. We only have to follow the sound of drums and the smell of incense, and when we arrive in the gold-littered court there is little question that we’ve come to the right place. More importantly, the king himself knows that he is powerful. If we come to complain about his rule, he will admit that he is responsible even if he ignores our pleas. And because he knows he is responsible, he may even remember to do justice, may be persuaded to be good. And if not, because his power is a visible, sharp-edged thing, we can at least get out of his way.

We go looking for another kind of power, and we find a quiet woman sitting behind a plain wooden desk covered with papers. She looks up from her writing and offers us a cup of tea. We’re confused, because this does not look like a seat of power. The woman is confused as well. There is no power here, she tells us, clearly hoping that we will leave. She says she is a writer, a businesswoman, a minor bureaucrat. Why would we come to her looking for a seat of power?

This is a good question. We do notice there is a subversive book, or a foreclosure notice, or maybe just form 27b-6 lying on her desk. Is not this a kind of power? She shakes her head. This is just social justice, the free market, the will of the people, she assures us. There is no power here. Yes, some people will always go to extremes, get into too much debt, or vote for foolish policies. But this is not her fault. She is certainly not responsible.

Too bad about that. We had some questions about the exercise of this power, but we can’t find anyone who will answer for it.