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.
Writing acknowledgements is hard, at least for me. There are many people who have encouraged or influenced me in the process of writing, so who do I include? Yet writing acknowledgements is easy for me as well. There are certain individuals who have contributed a great deal to my work, and it is more a question of how to condense my gratitude into a sentence or two for each one. There is definitely enough material there, and being a writer, I suppose I can find ways to summarize while still being specific. Still, the acknowledgements section has been one of the trickiest pieces of writing I have had to put together, and I am sure there are others who would agree. For that reason, I want to take a closer look at this section of a novel and distill some principles that might help us, the “secrets” to the acknowledgments section, as it were.
Purpose of the Acknowledgements
Who are the acknowledgements for? The answer is not simple, really. They are for the people to whom they are addressed, of course, but then, they are for the reader as well, and in another way, they are for the writer.
We write acknowledgements to do just what they are stated to do-to acknowledge. As authors, we want to confess and appreciate that we did not create our work on our own. Sure, we were the ones who typed up each word of the manuscript with painstaking diligence, but there were many around us who helped us in the process by taking care of the kids, cooking dinner, brainstorming with us when we got stuck, reminding us it was worth it when we were ready to give up, helping us in the publishing process, and believing in us even when we felt every word we’d written was pitifully pointless. We want to tell these people thank you, and there is something about having it written down for the world to see that makes our gratitude all the more impactful.
Yet we are not writing the acknowledgements only for those whom we would like to appreciate but also for the reader. The acknowledgements are an insight into our process and into the forces and people that shaped us in our writing. By including details about the people who impacted us, the reader gains an understanding of the meta-story, the story of how the story in the novel came about. It might not seem like much, but it gives the reader a feel for who we are.
Scope of the Acknowledgements
Finally, the acknowledgements are for ourselves, the writers. In them, we recognize how we arrived at where we are and who we are as authors. The acknowledgements section is where we discover just what influences guided us in our process. It humbles us, as in it we confess our dependence on our spouses, our friends, our fellow writers, and our publishers. Novels are not written in a vacuum, and I would find it suspect if someone were to tell me no one helped or supported them in their writing. It is possible, of course, but for the rest of us who relied on aid and encouragement from those around us, writing the acknowledgements keeps us modest about our accomplishments.
Now that we know for whom we write the acknowledgements, it would behoove us to discuss which people we acknowledge. I am no expert on this, I confess, but I have some thoughts on the matter.
The first people I include in my acknowledgements are those who saw me through and were there for the entire process. For me, that would be my husband and one of my writing friends. These are the people whose contributions were greater, more consistent, and more varied than reading a draft to give feedback. These are the people who helped us brainstorm and gave us feedback, but not only that, they carried us when we felt like giving up, they took care of the house and watched the kids, and they believed in us when all we could see was pessimism.
The second group of people I would mention would be those who took part in the drafting process, the “beta readers,” as it were. These people navigated the treacherous waters of trying to give constructive criticism. Whether they are our friends or mere acquaintances, they had to ride the line between helpful and hurtful, and even if they did not do it well, they ought to be commended for trying. Beyond that, their comments could have been beneficial, for which we should thank them as well. Really, the fact that they believed in us enough to become a beta-reader should earn our gratitude.
Finally, I believe we ought to thank our publishers. Sure, they are paid for what they do, but that in itself does not require them to take us seriously. Our marketing team, graphic designers, and other team members take the time and mental energy to understand what we are attempting to convey with our tens of thousands of words and help us boil it down to a simple image or marketing concept. Our editors, like our beta-readers, have chosen their words and thoughts to be considerate as well as practical. These people deserve accolades, and it is only right that we note their contributions in our acknowledgements.
Content of the Acknowledgements
I cannot tell you what to write in your acknowledgements section. Only you know that information. What I can give is two pieces of advice, as a reader and as a writer.
First, be specific. Thanking everyone and their mother for “their support” does not tell anyone anything and can sound disingenuous. If you have nothing more particular to thank them for than their “support,” then how significant was their contribution? Being non-specific does not benefit any of the three audiences. The acknowledged party might have little idea what they did to “support” you, and even if they do know what you mean, they have no indication of how it impacted you. The reader does not gain a sense of what types of encouragement or help these parties offered you when they read non-specific acknowledgements. Finally, we as writers do not benefit from generalities. Vague descriptions in this section of our books allow us to write off the help we’ve received as incidental. We often cannot understand the depth of a person’s influence and the impact of their encouragement until we specify what it was that helped us and how it did so.
Besides being specific, the best advice I can give is to be authentic. If you are a plain person in real life, do not try to be overly flowery in your acknowledgements. If, on the other hand, you like to speak and write poetically, then do so. More than just style-wise, though, be genuine in what you are grateful for. If something someone did impacted you deeply, point it out. With my beta-readers, I have found their enthusiasm and belief in what I am doing to be just as beneficial if not more than their comments on my manuscript. Being genuine makes for a deeper and more personal read for your acknowledgements.
The Point of All This
Of course, you might see crafting the acknowledgements with such care as a waste of time. Who even reads those things? Yet I believe the acknowledgements are for those who will read them, not for those who will skip over them, and as such, we ought to write in a way that will impact those first readers. It is much like how we craft our novels. We write for the audience who will consider and enjoy our work. We are not writing for the portion of the population who will pick up our books, read a chapter, then toss them aside. Our novels are for those who would benefit from reading them, and likewise, our acknowledgements are for those who are curious about our process and who will glean insight from what we write in this section. Let us give them something from which insight can spring, something worth considering. By our authenticity and specificity, let us draw the reader into a little part of our world and share a bit of ourselves with them. We have bared our souls in writing the rest of our novels, so let us not be suddenly guarded and stingy with our sharing here. It will be worth it.
“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.