A Lesson from Leslie: Your Writing Lives On
My friend Leslie Anne Bustard passed away on Friday morning after a long battle with cancer. She wasn’t just my friend—she was everyone’s friend, as there wasn’t a single person she crossed paths with who walked away unchanged by her infectious smile and energy. The number of people who love her and will miss her is immeasurable.
I met her just over two years ago shortly after Inkling Creative Strategies had become a thing. Square Halo Books, the company she ran with her husband, Ned, and friends, was putting on a conference devoted to the Inklings of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien lore. I didn’t just sign up—I sent her a Facebook message on a whim and shared what I was trying to build.
She was one of Inkling Creative Strategies’ first supporters, but she was so much more than that. We quickly discovered that we had a scary amount of stuff in common, from admiration of Andrew Wyeth’s and Vincent van Gogh’s paintings to a love of U2, the Innocence Mission, Broadway musicals, the movie That Thing You Do!, and so much more.
Last summer, I had one of my pieces of flash nonfiction featured in Calla Press. I had no idea it had even been accepted, let alone published, but I got back from a bike ride to find an ecstatic Facebook message from her that the essay was up on the website.
It’s exciting enough to get one of those “We are pleased to inform you” emails, but it’s a whole other level of excitement entirely when a friend is the one who gives you the news.
She was an amazing poet, an honest, beautiful writer, and a perfect hostess with a firecracker spirit.
I already miss her so much.
However, Leslie was a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that means that her community does not grieve as those without hope. She is the presence of the King and has heard Him proclaim, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
She is enjoying her reward. As one of our mutual friends said, she is more alive now than she was during her time with us, and that is a beautiful and almost impossible thing to imagine.
Leslie has had me thinking about a number of things over the last few days, but one thing that has outweighed all the others is thankfulness. Not just for having known her for even the brief time I did, but for the feast of words that survives her. She created poems, essays, books, podcast episodes, and so many more works of art that humanity will have the blessing of enjoying.
I already know that my copy of her poetry collection The Goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living will be a precious possession and a favorite book that I’ll come back to again and again.
This isn’t just a message for the family and friends of Leslie or any other writer who passes on. It’s for all the authors who have come before us and left things behind.
When you’re a writer, you get to live forever.
I don’t mean to scare you by saying this. You’re likely thinking of all the unfinished projects that you would never want anyone to see, let alone publish in the event of your death. I’ve got a couple of those myself, for the record.
I’m also not saying that you better hurry up and publish a book because you might walk out your front door and have an anvil fall on your head like in a Looney Toons short.
It’s more like Alexander Hamilton’s eleventh-hour query in the musical Hamilton: “Legacy? What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.”
When you’re a creative artist, you leave things behind, and the impact of those creations may never be known to you, at least not during your time on this earth. It’s proof that the world’s version of success—accolades, book sales, royalties, public recognition—is a lie.
Leslie herself wrote about this in an essay published in Calla Press during her illness:
When I find myself not satisfied with being seen and known by only those who love me and instead want affirmation of more people “out there,” or when I am anxious the work of my hands won’t be noticed by enough people to make it feel worthwhile, or when I forget the miracle of a year of being tumor-free right now and fixate on how unhappy I am at the weight my body is carrying (because this is the side effect of the medicines I take that fight stage 4 melanoma and stage 2 breast cancer).
I am learning to I say to myself and to Jesus, “A hidden life. . . “
I feel a whispered peace settle me.
And it is like the start of spring.
I hope you will be encouraged by the most hopeful truth of all involving your art: someone out there is waiting for what you have to say. They may never express it publicly or put a “like” on your post or leave you an Amazon review or make a TikTok video about how you awesome you are.
Of course, if any of those things happen, that’s obviously great. But even if they don’t . . . you just don’t know what is happening behind the scenes, or what will happen when you are no longer here.
Your job right now is to just write on. Follow that leading in the creative process where the message doesn’t come from you, but through you (as Inkling client Marc Lee Shannon says).
Don’t get caught in the net of other people’s approval or compromising your vision to better serve what’s “trending.”
Stop checking your social media stats. Stop posting on TikTok every two hours. Better yet, just delete the app and see what it’s like to live without this drive to keep making more content and the fear that people will forget you.
The work is what matters. Your work. Because sooner or later, whether it’s in your lifetime or someone else’s, the person it’s meant for will find it.
I know these are some really tough questions to deal with. Writing is filled with tough questions.
That’s why I make myself available for complimentary 30-minute writing consultations on Zoom.
You’ll get to talk with me about whatever issues you’re currently having with a project, the publication process, the writing process, or anything else that’s on your mind.
Click here to learn more and grab some time on my calendar.
More importantly . . . please honor Leslie’s legacy by visiting the Square Halo bookstore and investigating their wonderful titles about faith and creativity, including Leslie’s own titles.