Eight Reasons Why I Write Fiction

When I started writing, it was a hobby, something I did for my amusement. I was telling a story for the sake of entertaining myself and perhaps an audience if I ever got around to publishing. The whole thing was a pastime, though I was passionate about my ideas. I never imagined even the faint possibility of what writing now means to me, and I far underestimated the value of penning fiction. To encourage budding writers and published authors alike and as a reminder to myself, I want to outline eight of the reasons I write fiction.

1. To Express Myself

Journaling was the first reason I ever put my pen to paper outside school assignments. I cringe to think of my junior high and high school journals and am thankful I have lost track of them, perhaps never to see them again, as I was a rather emotional teen. In high school, I took to composing poetry. I could understand both modes of writing as inherently expressive of my inner world, but I never imagined creating fiction would be something similar.

I started writing my first book at age 26, a year after a significant move and a great deal of life change. As I typed away at my computer, I did not see at first that I was creating a place where my deepest hopes, dreams, and fears lived. The interactions between characters, the world itself, and the way societies work in my books all express my understanding of how life functions or how it often malfunctions. Somewhere around the time I was drafting the third book, I figured out the intimate connection between my novels and myself, and I have embraced how my thoughts and feelings reveal themselves in these books.

2. To Process Life

Journaling used to be the mode of writing I used to process life, and I still utilize it often for that purpose. However, I discovered recently that I am also sorting through my struggles and deep questions through the fictional books I am writing. Who would have thought a young adult, high fantasy series could help me understand that relationship between naïve optimism and embittered cynicism? Who would have thought something I am making up as I go could teach me how those two perspectives can influence each other? According to some understandings of writing, I am creating this world and its characters and scenarios and therefore govern their interactions. Yet I have found that if I let the characters function according to their personalities, goals, hopes, and fears, then one of my chief interactions with them is to learn from them, not to direct them. They help me understand the world around me in a deeper way.

3. To Be Vulnerable

If I am expressing deep parts of myself and processing profound realities in my writing, then it takes a certain vulnerability to put my work out in the world for others to view. The story can veil such meaning unless one is looking for it, though. I can pour out my soul in conversations between characters and the decisions they must make, but to many readers, the connection between those things and me is not clear unless I choose to reveal it.

My novels are a place where I can confess my struggles and convictions in a non-threatening, non-imposing way. I am not sitting anyone down and forcing my opinions on them, but I am offering a window into my perspective and inner battles. I cannot tell you how many times I have been reading a scene aloud just to make sure it makes sense and then my listener and I discuss why I wrote what I wrote. Why did that character say that? Why did they do this? What do these things mean to me, and how do they grow out of my journey through life? It is a beautiful thing for someone to ask these questions, that they would care enough to understand me in this way. Therefore, I treasure the vulnerability of fiction-writing.

4. To Escape

Many people admit that they read fiction to escape the conflict and pain of real life, if only for a little while. Maybe it is about finding problems that are simpler or that seem somehow more manageable. However, I think we are often just seeking something different. I know that when I am writing, I am no longer facing social discomfort, fretful anxiety, or deep-felt despondency but I become part of the struggle of a group of characters to overcome an ancient evil that could destroy their entire world. My own battles are against myself, my malfunctioning brain, and the voices I have internalized; my characters’ battles are against something external, something so powerful that it could annihilate reality as they know it. My weapons are prayer, positive self-talk, and Scriptural truth; theirs are metal blades and magic. All around, I would call my characters’ lives more epic and their problems more world-shaping than my own.

Yet I run to them when I am upset and overwhelmed. Maybe it is because of the gravity of their conflicts I flee to them. Perhaps it is because their struggles seem so much more tangible, because of their clear meaning and significance, because I can see in them a reason to fight. Maybe I just need something clearer than the muddied waters of my mind. I escape into the fictional world I have created, but then, I never stay there, which leads to my next point—how writing fiction helps me reconnect to reality.

5. To Reconnect and Learn

It might seem strange to some, but writing fiction helps me understand the real world in deeper and subtler ways than I might otherwise be apt to do. I have always known myself to be a thinker, often ruminating for hours on new concepts or ideas, sometimes to my detriment. Sitting in my inner world brooding over uncomfortable or confusing realities, I often find myself in a downward spiral, as I cannot think when things are too near to me. My vision blurs when things are too close, so the first means of externalizing and distancing myself that I found was journaling. Writing my thoughts down and getting them out of my head untangles their mess and makes them more manageable. Yet sometimes even journaling does not work. It is in times like these that I have found writing fiction helps.

There is something about watching someone else struggle through internal conflict and suffering that brings a certain lucidity to us. It is perhaps the reason for our hypocrisy most times—we can see in others what we do not recognize in ourselves. Yet if we take the time to draw parallels and connections between them and us, we find that our own thought patterns and emotions become clearer. They do not even need to be real people. They can be characters in books or movies or TV shows, and we need not only watch them but we can also learn by creating and writing them. They act out the drama unfolding in our own lives in a way that makes things simpler for us, and when we reflect on them, the lessons we draw can be intensely personal. Hence, writing fiction teaches me about myself and reality.

6. To Explore Ideas

When I started writing the Children of the Glaring Dawn series, I was just telling a story. There were vague themes or messages I wanted to get across, but I came at the whole project with a dictative attitude. I was there to direct things—the characters’ actions and emotions, their paths, their responses to each other—all to get across a few lame ideas I do not know that I even believed myself. It was all a feeble attempt at control, and it failed miserably.

Then one day, I realized what I was writing—an exploration, an investigation into two perspectives vying for supremacy, those of pessimism and optimism. I was going on a philosophical adventure into the interaction between two opposing viewpoints and waiting on the edge of my seat to see how they would shape each other. I am still waiting, as I am a little over halfway through book four of five, but I can say there have been many points of tension, conflict, compromise, and growth from both sides. We often tell each other the point of it all is the journey and not the destination. I believe that is the case here. I have survived a roller coaster of thoughts and emotions in writing these characters, and I have grown because of it, all because I opened myself to learning and exploring rather than directing.

7. To Accomplish Something Measurable

Sometimes depression tries to convince me I am worthless, useless, and purposeless. Honestly, that is one of its primary modes of instilling despondency in me. I know many people struggle with such feelings, and I suspect they can relate to my need for significance. Writing helps me accomplish something measurable, something tangible even. Holding a bulky manuscript in my hands, knowing I wrote every word in it, is an amazing testament for me to my ability to do something. It is a means of fulfillment and a way to feel like my life holds some consequence. It is not the only way I find purpose, nor is it even my primary means of doing so. Yet it is a way in which I can remind myself that I am important and remarkable in some respect. Writing novels helps me strive for success that I can measure, and for that I am grateful.

8. To Have Fun

Writing fiction is not all solemn and tiringly laborious. There is plenty of fun in it. Whether it be conversations with the comic relief character, scenes where someone finally “gets it,” or sweet, romantic moments, many things I write make me smile. I experience what my characters experience, therefore I ride the highs as much as I endure the lows. I get to laugh with my characters and cheer them on, and I have the privilege of both creating and living their lives, if only in my mind.

Not only do I have fun in enacting in my head what I write, but I also find enjoyment in the whole process of writing. Watching something I have created go from mediocre (or worse) to something presentable and perhaps even praiseworthy is encouraging, emboldening, and exhilarating. I can receive a high from reviewing my work and discovering it is something I enjoy reading. There is gratification in writing, a vivacity in feeling my fingers fly across the keyboard and seeing words appear on the screen. Writing is fun, and though it is more than a diversion, it amuses and entertains me as much or more than my readers.

More than a Vocation

Many would say their writing is more than just a hobby—it is their vocation. They might also phrase it that writing is their calling. To me, it is something different from that. Writing is my expression, therapy, my pouring out, an escape, a way of relating to reality, an adventure, an accomplishment, and a diversion. Writing intertwines itself with how I live life in such a way that it has become as natural as breathing and as needful as eating to me. It is not so much a calling as a mode of living, and in writing, I become more myself. I transform, little by little, into the person God has made me to be as I process and rehearse His truth in my fiction. Maybe the best way to put it is that writing is a gift that I continually unwrap and for which my gratitude overflows. Now that I have discovered it, I have turned a corner, and life is headed in a direction I never could have imagined. To Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, to Him be the glory. Amen.

My First Law of Writing

“Don’t be preachy.” Okay, maybe that isn’t my first law of writing, but it’s certainly up there, especially when I’m writing fiction. No one likes being told what to do and how to think. There are times, of course, that we attend lectures or sermons where someone instructs us on history, math, politics, chemistry, theology, and so on, but something about these settings creates a more open feel, a freer environment, in which we can take the information or leave it. The lecturer provides facts and counsel on how to process these facts, but when it comes down to it, it’s our choice whether we accept those things.

This isn’t always the case with one-on-one interactions. If I were to tell you, “This is a fact, and you must believe it,” even if that fact were something as true as “the sun is bright and the sky is blue,” you’d likely balk at my command. It wouldn’t be the fact about the sun and sky that would cause this reaction, though, but rather the imperative statement that follows it. In speaking this way, I would morph our conversation from one of mutual interest and equity to one of dictatorial demands, implying you must do my bidding. Certainly there are instances when such decrees are necessary, such as in parenting a child, but for the purpose of discussing ideas with a friend or peer, to take such an authoritative approach is off-putting.

I’ve found that writing, especially fiction-writing, is more like the second example, a conversation with an individual, than like the first example, a lecture. This might be counterintuitive, as we writers tend to think of our audience as broader than a single reader, but in truth, each reader interacts with our ideas in a sort of intimate solitude. There might be conversation about our writing afterward, but the first encounter a person has with our writing is very personal.

For this reason, we must respect our readers as we would a dear friend in dialogue. The last thing I want to do in my novels is sermonize and order the reader to agree with my viewpoints. Even in describing characters, I try to stick to facts and leave the commentary up to the other characters or to the reader. For example, I’d write, “the man wore a deep frown” rather than, “he was justifiably angry.” Who am I to say whether his anger was warranted? To him, of course, it was, but to his wife who’d been asking him for two weeks to mow the lawn, his displeasure at her repeated requests was his own fault and could have been easily solved by him listening and cutting the grass. The way I treat my characters and their viewpoints is with the same grace I feel we must show each other in life. I assume the best about their motives until they prove me wrong, and I seek to understand their actions and thought processes from a heart of true interest and caring. In writing, this translates, I hope, to a novel that doesn’t demand that the reader fall in line with my thinking but allows him or her to explore a different perspective for a moment and draw insights of his or her own.

I’ve understood the need for objectivity for a while, but just recently I discovered another piece of the puzzle. For a time, I confused this necessity for impartiality with a necessity for detachment. In all honesty, I felt a type of shame when my beliefs shone through in my novels. “Don’t dictate,” “don’t preach,” “Don’t pressure your readers,” I told myself. My characters have struggled with faith and relationships and truth, and in writing each of them, I’ve been making comments on those things. Even in the mythology of my world, a piece of my worldview peeks through. As I look back at my novels, I realize I can’t separate myself from my works. I cannot disguise the strange mixture of hope and cynicism within me, and my desire to be a part of something greater, something lasting, something beautiful, ruptures through my attempts at neutrality like a flower bursting from the bud.

How can this be? I just finished telling you how I aspire to write only facts, nothing so subjective as to pressure the reader into believing me. There is a secret I’ve found to writing and to life, though. Pride-filled orders for someone to accept what we’re saying, pathetic pleas for people to just trust us, coercive arguments to have others confess our truth, these things do little to convince anyone. Yet this doesn’t mean we should neglect the beliefs of ours that ought to be considered, the ideas of ours that ought to be contemplated, or the thoughts of ours that ought to be discussed. It’s just that the best way to present these things is by living them and weaving them into our stories so intricately that they’re no longer tenets or doctrine to be force-fed but rather animate convictions and breathing beliefs from which our lives naturally follow.

I hope never to oblige my readers to accept my beliefs as true based on the mere fact that I’ve stated them, and I imagine that many writers agree with me on this point. For this reason, we must take care not to “preach” at our audiences. Rather, we must focus on crafting our stories with an inner honesty and faithfulness to what we’re writing. In doing so, without an attachment to the convincing of the reader, we’ll find that what we write becomes more compelling and truth-filled. In letting go of the results and centering ourselves on sincerity, our works take on a life of their own and we’re simply along for the ride. I will end up revealing my soul before I’m finished. Yet with all genuineness and candor, I can share the hidden pieces of my heart in a way that doesn’t force a conclusion from others but instead invites them to explore the ideas I have presented. In confessing who I am, I hope that others, that is, my readers, might find a space in which they can do the same. My beliefs, the vantage point from which I see reality, will shine through, but if I’m careful to show respect and kindness, it just might be that we can all become a little more honest about the world and ourselves.

To Write is to Love

To write is to love. It is to love your characters, your story, your ideas, and your themes. More than that, it is to love your readers, your truth-telling, your God, and yourself. To write is to have a deep affection for something, whether that something be life or a message or a goal. I find it hard to imagine writing without being enamored with something or someone. I am sure such an exercise is possible, but I wonder whether a work would be worth reading if the author did not have some belief and interest in what he or she had written.

To love is, in turn, many things. It is to give, just as we give life to our novels, but it is also to receive wherein we are as informed as by our characters and messages as they are by us. Our stories mold us even as we form the words to tell them.

To love is also to take pride in what we love, but at the same time, it is to be humbled by the object of our love. We often write with the intention of unveiling beauty and truth to the world, but in the same instant, the privilege of presenting such splendor and honesty can draw us to our knees.

To love is to sacrifice, but in addition, it is to accept what another yields. In writing, we spend countless hours and tears crafting just what we would like to say, but in exchange, we collect insights and awarenesses and epiphanies like so many crumbs off a table. Soon, we have feasted ourselves on their wisdom and rapture.

To love is to smile and cry and experience life alongside another, but it is also to hear someone else’s laughter in our joy and feel another’s tears in our sorrow, mingling with our own. Often, we experience a character’s happiness or frustration or anguish as though we were enduring the same emotions, but there exist moments, too, when we recognize our own trials in the personalities we have written and find in these characters a solace of understanding.

To write is to love, just as many things are. It might be better stated, “to create is to love.” Indeed, in love God created us and fashioned us as creators and lovers ourselves. His first instruction to us was, “Be fruitful and multiply,” that is, come together in love to create a being like yourselves who will, in turn, love and create. There are some who would dismiss writing, especially fiction-writing, as futile and unavailing, but I have found some of my most profound enlightenment in it. Through writing I have learned to better love, for writing itself is a love, and through writing I have become a more honest version of myself. It is for infatuation with life, for endearment of emotion, for passion for people, and for adoration of my God that I spin my stories, and it is for hope in a greater Story, for the glorious ending that is only a beginning, I make ready.