Depression is debilitating. How many days have I woken up with a deep sense of foreboding, dreading the day to come? How many times have I sunk down into my chair, staring at the computer screen without a clue which of my many tasks I should do next? How often have I thought to myself I have neither the skill nor the ability to accomplish what I want to accomplish? Depression steals my self-confidence and self-assurance. It convinces me that my dreams are far out of reach, that even normal daily life is beyond my capability.
Writing, too, is nearly impossible when I am depressed. Whatever I type seems to come out garbled and convoluted. What I intend as profound thinking instead appears obvious and crude. I cannot get out of my head and instead drown in self-criticism and self-condemnation. How am I supposed to write characters who are so different from me while trapped in a whirlpool of self-centered disgrace? With my gaze turned inward, I am blind to any perspective other than my own. No matter how many times loved ones encourage me to keep going, to keep writing, not to give up, I feel like I am slipping—slipping down, down, down into failure. I am determined to finish what I started, though. I am resolved to grind away at the millstone until everything lies crushed before me, until it no longer resembles the vision I had for it, but at least it is something different from what I started with. I have something to show for my efforts, for God forbid I have nothing to offer in the end.
But what if it is not about having something to offer? What if writing is not about my deep thoughts or my cleverness or my insights? What if writing is not about me? I wonder if I stopped focusing so much on myself and turned my eyes outward, whether I would find something there. Might it be that the something I have been grasping to call my own only flourishes when I give up my possession of it? For ultimately, truth and beauty were never mine to own. They belong to Someone higher who allows me their use as a gift, a blessing. I have been so intent on offering something that I have forgotten what has been offered to me.
Depression draws my focus inward. It shrinks my world and threatens to choke me. Yet there is granted to me something to help me escape depression’s clutches. Writing—that wondrous fusion of truth and beauty—rather than being a stumbling block, can draw me out if I let it. Instead of being just another thing to make me feel incapable and small, it can expand my vision and remind me that indeed, though I am small, I am loved by Someone much bigger. His love is boundless, and I could spend eternity crafting words to convey just what that means. Maybe, rather than an offering, He really does require mercy. Maybe, instead of a sacrifice, He really does desire my knowledge of Him. How thankful I am for the gift of words by which I can know Him and be known!
I find it interesting the type of media we have turned to over the past couple decades. Superheroes have made a comeback, and science fiction and fantasy have entered the spotlight. I am not complaining, of course. In these genres are heroes that inspire us and villains that make us reconsider the world around us. I enjoy these films and books, and by them I feel stirred to greater courage myself. I would suggest we need these stories, as a society and as individuals. To explain my statement, let us start with a quote by C. S. Lewis.
“Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.”
C. S. Lewis
Famous for the children’s series, The Chronicles of Narnia, among many other works, Lewis argues children need stories of heroism to face the evils that will probably come their way. I would argue we all, children and adults alike, need literature that presents courage and virtue in a clear light. Inevitably, struggle and suffering will intercept our paths, and such situations will demand of us bravery, bravery that defies even our own expectations.
Struggle is real to some even as a child. Other children have been shielded from painful battles, therefore life’s difficulties come as a surprise, a shock, in adulthood. It is without question, however, that everyone will encounter conflict and trial in their lives, whether it be financial, physical, social, or spiritual. To survive and to thrive, a person must stride forward with courage in the face of fear.
Yet how does one learn to do that? It is to this need the stories I have mentioned can speak. Watching our fictional heroes on the screen and reading them—or should I say, experiencing them—on the page, we find ourselves drawn into their conflicts and struggling alongside them for resolution. We root for their bravery and self-sacrifice even as we mourn the loss such things will entail. Dare I say we wish we could be them—to live a life that means something and leaves an impact long after we are gone?
It is into this need I find myself drawn as a writer. It is dangerous to write oneself into a story, it is said, and I found I have not done that exactly. Rather, I have written pieces of myself into characters more heroic than I am. I see in them the same impulses of fear and self-doubt that I possess, yet I watch them stride forward in the face of those things. They struggle and reach low points, leaving themselves on the brink of self-destruction, but in the end, they turn to hope and courage. It is that turning I yearn to watch, that I ache to experience through them.
And somehow, along the way as I write them, I realize maybe I do have courage—the courage to write, to present myself to the world, to pursue a dream that takes years of hard work to fulfill. More than that, I have the courage, the very audacity to hope and long for something better than these years marked by struggle and strife, and I have the courage to believe that one day I will reach that something better. I have the courage to believe that all this suffering and bitterness of days will not amount to nothing but rather will be transformed even as I am transformed into something beautiful.
We need our stories of heroism, and we need to be the heroes.
There is much controversy concerning this statement from John Keats’ famous poem, “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Many critics find this ending assertion flawed and marring. For example, T. S. Eliot wrote in an essay, “…this line strikes me as a serious blemish on a beautiful poem, and the reason must be either that I fail to understand it, or that it is a statement which is untrue.” Are truth and beauty interchangeable as Keats suggests? I am no philosopher, and having lived only three decades on this earth, I claim no special wisdom, yet I wonder if he was getting at something. Truth and beauty seem linked to me, and it is through writing that I have become more aware of their connection.
When I first started writing my fiction series, Children of the Glaring Dawn, I did so with a domineering attitude, subjugating my characters’ wills and even personalities to the plot and messages I determined. As a result, very little made sense in those first drafts in terms of character relationships and character development. Eventually, I realized what I was doing. It was a breakthrough moment when I saw my characters for who they are, and writing with that perspective, I was able to create something more honest and real—something more truthful. At the same time, the beauty of what I was writing shone through with great brilliance. I saw the merits of fiction-writing in a deeper way than I had imagined possible, and the messages that emerged from this transformation struck me in the core of my being with their breathtaking delight. In short, the closer I came to truth, the nearer I drew to beauty.
Years ago, Albert Einstein drew a connection between truth and beauty as well, saying, “The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.” We can stand in awe of a many-hued sunrise or a poignant violin solo just as well as we can wonder at the love of a mother for her child or the way the basic forces of the universe hold our physical reality together. The line between truth and beauty blurs with these things. Are they beautiful because they are true, or do they seem most true because they are beautiful? Or are they both true and beautiful because of some deeper cause?
“Beauty itself is but the sensible image of the Infinite,” Francis Bacon said, and I think his words help answer the question we just posed. Beautiful things are such because they point to something greater, something deeper, something more. They reflect the Infinite, what by definition is beyond comprehension, and make it accessible to us. They take the invisible Truth and present it to us as perceptible, displaying the Unknown as something recognizable.
Beauty displays truth—that much is clear. But then does the truth display beauty? That is where writing comes in for me. I have found that beauty arises from the passages that ring most genuine and true. Writing of loss and suffering, of hope and love, the poignant reality of my words is what moves me. Reading is the same way. When I mark passages in books, it is because they compel me with their ability to describe the human experience. What results from the force of their truth is beauty.
In a way, I agree with Keats—beauty presents truth, and an accurate depiction of truth creates beauty, but I would argue that beauty and truth remain distinct. If beauty could contain all truth, then what of the experience of pain and anguish that plague so many in the world today? Starvation is not beautiful. War is not beautiful. Cancer is not beautiful. Dementia is not beautiful. Sex slavery is not beautiful. Suicide is not beautiful, and I could go on. There are true evils in the world today that I can in no way argue are beautiful, and I have no desire to try. Perhaps I can write and capture the experience of these things in a moving way such that my words are beautiful, but those words do not change the reality of agony and affliction for innumerable souls around the world. There is an overlap between truth and beauty, but our vile and ignoble acts mar the truth such that beauty cannot encompass it.
Yet as we look at the evils in the world, we know they are wrong. We have this unrelenting feeling that this is not how things should be—it is not how they could be. There is a deeper Truth than our messed-up reality, and it is when we touch on that Truth, we find beauty. Truly beautiful things give us a type of nostalgia for something we have never actually experienced. It is as though we are remembering some paradise we have never entered, but we know it is there, just beyond our reach. Our grasping at beauty and truth, our little attempts to capture them, fall short of transporting us to the place where they reside. C. S. Lewis writes of this in his book, The Weight of Glory:
The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.
In reality, truth and beauty are not the same, but they proceed from the same source—the Truth and Beauty and Goodness and Love that set all of this in motion and is constantly calling us back to Himself. He gave us writing and music and paintings, sunsets and oceans and graceful creatures abounding, to awaken that “longing” just mentioned. Wanting us not only to witness beauty and truth but to participate in them with Him, He invites us to become truly beautiful ourselves. As Rumi wrote, “That which God said to the rose, and caused it to laugh in full-blown beauty, He said to my heart, and made it a hundred times more beautiful.” To write or draw or paint or read, to walk in nature, and especially to love a fellow human being and Truth Himself—these are ways we experience truth and beauty, and little by little, God whispers to us in them to make our hearts more graceful and delightful.
Acceptance is “the action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered,” according to the Oxford Dictionary. Daily we accept things—situations, people, rewards, criticism. Though we might blush at being the recipients of some good we feel is unmerited, acceptance of gifts and blessings is often easy. We welcome comfort, security, favor, and praise, as they encourage us and assuage our anxieties about ourselves and our world. Acceptance of suffering and challenges, however, comes less naturally. We balk at pain, and well we should, as pain is the body’s way of indicating something is wrong. Pain is a warning signal.
Perhaps we forget, though, that acceptance is not the same as approval. We need not endorse the cause of our suffering to receive it with grace. There is merit in suffering well such that clergyman and social reformer Henry Ward Beecher observed, “Suffering well borne is better than suffering removed.” Pain breaks us down and reforms us. It shatters our fragile assumptions of safety and misconceived notions about what is good, then builds something stronger and more robust in their place. At least suffering can do these things if we allow it to. What it requires is acceptance.
How does this relate to writing? Writing is a challenge and a struggle—it is often painful. Whether you are experiencing an agonizing block to adding to your manuscript, smarting over the ridiculous mistakes you made in your first drafts, tender from critique as you realize someone saw those mistakes, or aching from rejection after rejection by agents and publishers, if you are a writer, you know what it is to hurt. The funny thing is that it is self-inflicted. We enter this life, perhaps unknowingly, as soon as we pick up the pen or sit down at the keyboard. Every step is another step into the sorrow of an artist—the persistent sense of unfulfillment, of being on a journey and not knowing if you’ll ever reach the destination. It is a pursuit of perfection with an acute awareness of your own limitations. Writing is suffering.
Yet we accept this suffering. We accept it in all its stinging, aching heartbreak, but why? I think we realize that something beautiful can emerge from it, and I do not mean the printed volume. Mary Tyler Moore put it well when she said, “Pain nourishes courage. You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you.” It takes great courage to be a writer—to pour one’s heart and skill into a mere few hundred pages (I have wondered whether a bookshelf, much less a single book can contain one’s heart) and to submit it to others for their perusal and interpretation. Some eyes are kind and insightful, to be sure, but there are vicious critics out there too, ready to devour our resolve and mettle. Yet our valor and daring run deeper. We have accepted the call.
We think we are receiving a challenge and suffering when we write (and we are), but it might in fact be a greater gift and blessing than we could have imagined. Perhaps we ought to blush at this—the opportunity to create, to explore, to take chances, to fail and pick ourselves back up, proving ourselves stronger than we ever thought we could be. Perhaps we ought to revel in our weaknesses and limitations because it is our awareness of them that shows our boldness and dauntlessness in striding ahead. When we accept writing as a gift, albeit a painful one, we prepare ourselves to be recipients of a glory not our own. It is a glory bestowed on those heroes who step out, knowing they will fall, determined to get back up and return to the fight. We will not give up.
Alabama was one of the later states to give stay-at-home orders. They came last Friday (2 days ago) and went into effect yesterday evening. These are trying times, as things we once thought stable and consistent have changed on us: work schedules and operation, freedom to travel, childcare situations, socializing, etc. etc. I’m thankful that both my husband and I are able to work still and for family and friends who have stepped in to take care of our son while we’re away at our jobs. May we not take these things for granted once things return to what we would call “normal”!
To keep ourselves occupied and entertained in this time, a couple of my friends started a virtual scavenger hunt for the rest of us, and one of the items was to write a poem. This is what I came up with.
Spare me the tale of your quarantine,
O suffering extrovert, O pining child.
Care I not to hear where you’ve been—
In your confining walls as though exiled.
All’s dull as you cook and read and clean.
Lo, I know it well, to put it mild.
Don’t regale me with stories of your indoor crusades.
Instead tell me of places distant and far—
Someone somewhere has it made.
They dine in a cafe, then browse a bazaar.
After that they venture into a store,
Never worried about that six-foot gap,
Caring little ‘bout the aisle of TP galore.
I, meanwhile, just take a nap.
No, I’m not complaining about the situation.
God knows, for real, I did need a vacation
From the whining clients and complaining collective
Or from the daily grind and corporate directive.
Right now, I don’t miss the hamster-wheel objective.
This sequestration, instead, makes me creative.
Having little in the fridge makes me innovative.
Each quiet hour, I wax meditative
While the world outside slips into spring.
In the calm, in his domicile, each becomes king.
Now, with six-foot partitions, the COVID choir sings.
Want to know a secret? This is an acrostic. Read the first letter of each line down to find the message.
Writing, while fun and deeply rewarding, is also a difficult, even overwhelming task. You might have guessed as much or even experienced it yourself. Before I started writing, composing a whole book seemed insurmountable. Now here I am on Book 5 of my series, and I can tell you writing comes with a set of difficulties I hardly imagined when I set out on my journey. I have picked five of the more common and problematic issues to talk with you about.
Of course, there is time management. My schedule is jam-packed with full-time work, motherhood, household tasks, mentoring, church, getting together with friends at least semi-weekly, and some other regular appointments I must keep. I somewhat expected this problem to arise. It was probably the main reason I felt I could not complete a project like the one I am on right now. Writing is a long-term commitment and requires devotion and set-aside time, something I was not sure I had when I started planning these books.
Given everything going on in my life, I do not know how I find time to write. I only know I have made it a priority to do so. Writing helps me sort through my experiences and feel more human, more me, and thus it is my go-to when I get home from a hard day and need some time alone. It takes the place of watching Netflix and other hobbies, such as crocheting, and I must make a conscious decision to use my time in this way. As I said earlier, writing is a commitment, and I must devote myself to the task as others devote themselves to sports or practicing musical instruments if I am to succeed.
Writer’s block was the other problem I foresaw when I began planning these novels. It comes up for two reasons in my experience—an emotional block or mental exhaustion. Being prone to depression and anxiety, when these conditions ramp up, I have a hard time concentrating and connecting with my characters. I am too much in my head at that point to funnel my emotional energy in any other direction. In addition, when I have written thousands of words or am tired from work, my mind is so scattered I cannot think about what my characters would say or do in a situation.
What do I do in these when this happens? Most times, I give myself a break, or at least that is what I ought to do. There are occasions I try to write anyway, which ends up just frustrating me and discouraging me further. Sometimes I try listening to my Children of the Glaring Dawn playlist, attempting to reconnect with the characters and scenes I have written or plan to write. Other times, I drink some coffee and find myself re-energized. In the end though, I need to be okay with doing something else. It is not disastrous to miss a day or even a week of writing. Sometimes it just takes a little space to reorient myself and dive back into a writing spree.
Coming Up for Air
One thing I did not suspect was how much my characters would mean to me or how deeply I would get caught up in their world. They are playing out the stories I tell myself, the narratives I have about life and people, and thus they are fascinating to me. They are the way I sort through my own experiences and understandings, and thus I can get lost in them. Then I must come back to the real world and interact with real people (who I do not know as well as my characters, mostly). I must face the fact that these other people have not the slightest idea of the adventure I have been on.
How do I reconcile this? For one, I feel like I am carrying around a beautiful secret, cherishing it until the right person and occasion comes along to reveal it. The times when someone shows a genuine interest in what I have been writing have been some of the most treasured moments of my life as I am sharing my heart, my very soul, in the form of a story. Second, I must continually make connections between reality and what I am writing to not lose myself for good in the story. I must reflect on why I write what I write—why a character says something a certain way, why a certain function of the world works the way it does. This way I ensure I am connected to the real world even in my creativity. I never want to lose that connection.
One of the most tempting things to do as a writer is to compare, whether it be our past work to our present or our work to someone else’s. I have fallen prey to this often, yet no good can come of it. Once you have published a work, you cannot change it, so comparing it to your present work after months or years of growth will only make you miserable. Comparing with others’ work leads to either a woeful sense of shame and inferiority or a haughty sense of superiority. Neither has served me well, making me blind to either the merits or faults of what I have written.
How do I avoid this, as tempting as it is? First, I make sure not to read my own past work or others’ work when I am feeling depressed or off-kilter. I know that I will draw unfounded conclusions based on my emotional state rather than on reality when I feel that way. Second, I go into every reading with a desire to appreciate and honor and laud the excellencies and worth and value of what I am reading. This is much easier said than done, and I can go into something with the best of intentions and end up bemoaning my writing flaws and shortcomings, anyway. Nevertheless, I must at least try to approach whatever I am reading with a positive and appreciative attitude.
Forget Where My Worth Lies
The final difficulty I will discuss, though far from the last difficulty of writing, is remembering where my worth lies. It is easy as a writer to define myself by what I produce, but as Jackie Hill Perry tells us at the end of this video, we are more than a commodity. It is easy to define myself by the value of what I create and by other people’s opinions. Online reviews and others’ responses to my writing can make or break me sometimes. Whether relief and pride or discouragement and shame result, this is an unhealthy mindset.
How do I break myself out of it, though? I reframe things in my mind. I am not a writer, rather I write. I am not an author, rather I compose books. I do things, but I am not those things. They are not what defines me. Rather, I am a daughter of God, loved by my Creator, redeemed by my Savior, and set to create for His glory. Ultimately, this is not about me, I must remind myself. This is how I combat this problem of forgetting where my value stems from.
Not Giving Up
You might have noticed that I did not include wanting to give up in my list of difficulties of writing. Strangely to me, this has not come up often, hardly at all, in fact. Even when I took a year and a half break after writing the first 100,000 words, this project was always on my radar. I would take my computer with me wherever I went just in case I got a sudden inspiration. My patience and devotion paid off, and I began writing again almost two years ago. I have never truly considered surrendering to incompletion.
Why not? I believe it is because I have seen the incredible value of writing in my life and also the merit in what I am writing. I am passionate about this project and about writing, the reasons for which you can read about here. The Children of the Glaring Dawn series has captured my attention and devotion. It is my art and my way of displaying the beautiful, sometimes heart-rending reality I find in the Story of all stories, and I pray you might discover something just as worthwhile in it yourself.
I think we sometimes underestimate the impact we have on other people. I know I do. Sometimes it’s a sharp word spoken to my son at which his face turns down. Sometimes it’s a smile on a friend’s face at an offhand comment I make. Sometimes it’s a sentence I wrote that I didn’t think about that is nonetheless profound to someone reading it. Yet every so often there will come a moment that reminds me of the power of human interaction, and yesterday I experienced many such moments.
The Backdrop to My Gratitude
First let me emphasize that as an author, I have found myself vulnerable in many ways. I’ve worked for years, pouring my heart into this story and these characters only to find them printed on a page and distributed to whomever cares to read my work. I don’t have the guarantee that all these people will read with eyes of grace and appreciation. In fact, I’m much more likely to find that some of my readers are critical, nit-picky, unimaginative, and just plain negative. It’s a dangerous world out there for an author—your heart, your very soul, expresses itself in a piece of art that, once having been measured by the degree of honesty and beauty, is suddenly measured by how many stars it receives on Amazon. To be candid, I’ve been terrified of this part of the publishing journey.
I don’t say all this to draw pity or sympathy, however, rather to set this as a contrast for how significant and uplifting your support is in my writing. Yesterday, the launch day for Light of Distant Suns, was a beautiful day in so many ways for me, and I want to share with you how you encouraged me.
I can’t begin to list all the kind words and encouragement I received yesterday. From the smallest “like” on my Facebook live video to the lengthy conversation with one of my friends about this publishing journey to everything in between, I found myself showered with support and love. As a writer, even the smallest “way to go” or “great job” means a lot and helps propel me forward. If you want to encourage an author, it’s as simple as telling them you appreciate how hard they’ve worked, that you’re proud of them, or that you admire them. To everyone who went out of their way to lend me strength with their words, thank you!
2. Attendance and Presence
Another great encouragement I had was all the people who attended my online and in-person launch parties. From my family to my friends to friends of friends, the sheer number of people who showed up has bolstered me to move forward with greater confidence and grace. It’s not always possible, but if you know an author is having an event, whether a release party, a signing, or a lecture, make an effort to show up. Your mere presence is a reassurance that we’re doing something right and a reminder that you care about us. To everyone who stopped by online or in person yesterday, thank you!
3.Reading the Book
Of course, one of the best ways to support an author is to read what they’ve written. Read seeking understanding. Ask questions and search for answers. Reflect on what you’ve read. Share in the adventure on which the author has embarked, and let us know your thoughts with gentleness and appreciation. I am looking forward to friends and family reading my book because it is a way for me to share with them a piece of who I am. To all those who have read or plan to read Light of Distant Suns, thank you!
4. Sharing with others
One last way to support an author is to share their work with others. This could look like mentioning their book in conversation, reposting a tweet, sharing a Facebook announcement, and giving or recommending their book to someone else. Networking, so vital in the corporate world, seems also essential within the publishing world. Word of mouth is a great way to spread the news about an author’s work. I have seen a great deal of support in this capacity already, and I am so very grateful for it. My family have all been amazing publicizers for my book, and I can’t thank them enough. To all those who have helped spread the word about my debut novel, thank you!
A Shared Effort
To wrap up, let me just reiterate how much each of these types of support has meant to me. I believe in the power and significance of what I’m writing, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded sometimes that other people believe in me as well. I see the potential impact of my words on readers, but I won’t see that come to fruition unless people actually read what I’ve written. In a way, this is a type of group project. I’ve done a lot of the work on the front end, but I need you all to help me with the rest. While I might not have the opportunity to thank you individually, let this post serve as a reminder to you—I appreciate what you’re doing. I appreciate you. Thank you.
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.
“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.