“Writing is prayer.”
– Franz Kafka
In today’s world with ever-more distracting, inane and attention-grabbing information, it can be particularly challenging for new storytellers to overcome the fear that their story is too simple and uninteresting.
We’re the worst judges of our own stories. Despite that and the fact that sharing your story honestly and with vulnerability is all that’s needed to reach and teach readers, many new writers think they need to include more, share moral lessons and help readers learn something specific through reading their story.
And it may be true when writing a blog post or a nonfiction article, but with narrative, it just needs to be as truthful as possible.
I thought my story was too boring when I started writing my autobiographical novel. But now having worked with so many writers for over 15 years, I realize people read books not to be shocked or overwhelmed by information, but mostly to escape.
Trouble was, until I worked out my pain, fear and resentment, I was too blocked to see what my real task as a writer was. I had to accept that I wasn’t there to teach anyone anything. My job was simply to reveal my heart.
But for many years, I wasn’t ready to share my honest truth. I didn’t want to accept my real emotions, the dark embarrassing truth about myself and how I really felt about my life. I figured I could bluff my way through it, just tell the basic story and make up the rest. I figured no one wanted the full truth anyway.
But I was just telling myself that. I’d always told myself that. I told myself a lot of things. Things were fine. I was fine. But things were only fine when life was going well, and as soon as life got challenging, I’d clamp down and stop seeing, stop feeling, stop talking. Stop writing.
We have to realize that as the writer, we have to know the path of healing first to share what readers really need. We can’t accurately assess the situation while we’re denying the truth about our emotions. Because what’s most damning, until we let go of our control, we’ll make decisions about life and writing that only (and often exclusively) benefit ourselves.
Every new author says they didn’t realize how much counseling was involved in writing a book. But once they know, they find out it’s only when you’ve gone through it yourself that you can tell the full truth and not so interested in your own welfare.
This is why learning to write your story means facing the truth of yourself and your weaknesses, allowing healing bit by bit, and sharing the vulnerable truth of all of that, until the universality of your journey is irreducible.
As Annie Dillard said, “the secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind… [to] hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff.” We can’t cause inspiration or make readers learn, we can only take the wisdom into ourselves and try to let it out as clearly and simply as possible.
Writing involves not so much teaching or learning to write well as it does opening your heart to wisdom and letting go of all that stands in its way.
The goal of higher purpose writing is not to change readers but to be changed yourself. For only then will readers be changed.
It isn’t what writing your story will do for others; it’s what writing your story will do for you. And that perspective won’t merely change your writing, it can change everything: the way you live, the way you think of yourself and all your relationships. If you’re called to write your story, is there any goal more worth your investment?
You can find healing in the simplicity of that: you have a story and you can write it because it’s meant the world to you.
Maybe it’s okay we don’t start out writing to unmask ourselves. Maybe no one automatically wants to do that. But maybe once we realize the higher purpose, at some point it’s no longer an option. To write anything with the profound truth and simplicity we know it must have, maybe the dedication required is nothing less than to fully embrace our very human lives.
I know this is true now because it’s what was revealed to me in the process of trying to write. And I’m not finished with the novel yet, but I share it with you as something I found within my story, not as a lesson to teach, but as the simple truth which has given the work real life and meaning.
And I pray you can find it as well.
“My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours…”
– Frederick Buechner