A writer was just starting her story. But it wasn't working.
I told her so. She had a good start, but there wasn’t enough interest. She
realized she needed to give readers a better sense of the big problem that
started her out on her journey. But she didn't know if she could do it. I said we’ve got to know how bad off things
were beforehand if we’re going to be interested in how she got through it.
I pushed her to dig deeper (in that
encouraging-while-discouraging way editors have) and she came back a few days
later totally worn out. Really difficult, she said. “It’s like I’ve forfeited
everything just to go back there again.” She wasn’t sure it was healthy and
didn’t know if she’d be okay once the book was done. That was the deepest,
darkest time in her life, without hope, without God.
I started to doubt I could help her. I considered pulling back.
But I knew better. If she hadn’t found what made her want to
write the book in the first place—namely, peace—it might have been different.
But now she knew what she’d found. I know my own dark places well too. And it’s
in writing about them I’ve learned to face them and truly value the experience.
It is difficult to turn off while you’re going back to occupy that unstable
brain space again. And it can be a very real struggle not to fall back into
Maybe you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever gone
back to that familiar oppression and felt disconnected from your current life
because of it, you know how you and everyone around you needs a lot of
forgiveness. Every writer I know has found some form of this
same challenge. How to return to living today after digging through the past.
I think it was Phil Yancey in his article Writing As a
Psychotic Act who said that writing for him is like entering a hyperbaric
chamber and trying to subsist on its oxygen for a while—and then trying to
reacclimate to reality is tough. I tend to think it’s a necessary struggle to
authentically recreate moments from the past. Maybe some writers just have to
stay there for a time, like method actors. Writers of true stories have both
the shadowy memory to contend with, but also the unavoidable reversion to a
less fulfilling, less alive time. And I'm not sure this is any different for other kinds of writers.
It seems to me, anyone attempting to write deeply (about their past or anything really) is likely to experience more than some mental lag. There’s spiritual and
practical-daily-life sort of challenges as well. Writers are more affected by
environment than most, and those writing about their own past are often in a
pretty dark environment.
So my word for all of us heading into Easter is trust. We do know three days will pass. And because of
Easter, when we make sacrifices, it will turn into far more than it was before.
In a very real sense, we’re giving over all we have in order to write—and at
the stories’ start, all our hard-won intelligence and awareness itself—but
that’s the very thing that sets up the exponential multiplication of that
awareness in your readers. Think about that as you go to the place before you
knew what you do now. And expect the miracle.
This is what I’ll be pondering on Easter. How essential
every sacrifice is that writers like you make to be true to their stories. And
so many are grateful for the effort. But best of all, though it may be just a
speck of the experience he went through for us, it could just become the saving
knowledge for someone.