Writing to Heal – Others and Ourselves
I’m so happy to be here. But I’m afraid. I’m afraid to show you my true self.
When you get up in front of people and you’re someone who doesn’t just do the normal thing, you have to be honest and share about yourself. And if you’re like me, you want to go further and share your guts.
And everyone says they want more than the normal thing. But really, we all want what’s familiar and safe and comfortable. And that’s all of us.
Our lives are full enough already just trying to get by and get the kids where they need to go and then to finally get them to leave home.
But writers are meddlers. They dig into stuff. They don’t color in the lines. They’re “creative.” That tends to make people uncomfortable.
They’re rebels and misfits. And some are really quiet, but they’re still very curious.
I know because I am like this. And my authors are like this.
I’m a committed Christian who doesn’t have anything figured out. Like anyone, I struggle to love people and I’m prone to judging. But I want to be the kind of Christian who only does what God reveals. Which is to say I want to let God take over.
And of course I don’t do this well. What I want to do isn’t what I do, so mostly that means I try to be quick to forgive when I, or anyone, messes up.
My editing and coaching follow from that. I’m not a hard-nose and I don’t focus on the books, the products, so much as the process. Most people starting out, that’s what they need.
Often, when writers come for editing or coaching they’re still working through emotions and personal stuff their story has brought up.
And this is why over the last 5 years I’ve taken such a dramatic change from the previous 10 years of corporate editing work.
Things have shifted. I now focus on helping writers go on their greatest healing journey. Through the process of refining their books, they see how to make it universal, and in that, they find healing for some of their most personal pains.
I’d like to share some of the ways I’ve found this process to work amazingly well.
So recently, I’ve been on a bit of a Brene Brown kick. I first saw her famous TED talk a couple years ago and I was blown away.
It’s about her research on how we connect and why it’s hard for so many people. Her books on embracing imperfection and vulnerability helped provide a language for what I was finding in my work with writers.
And it was totally God’s doing because I was the least likely guy to go for this touchy-feely stuff.
I was raised by a couple of very conservative Jesus hippies from California.
Actually, they weren’t hippies at all. They were kind of the opposite of that. The things they protested were far more dangerous than war and the government. They protested Santa Claus and the Easter bunny for taking the focus off of Jesus, and they protected me from the rampant immorality in “the world.” (And that’s nothing to say for Satan’s holiday.)
As a kid I didn’t get to trick or treat or read unapproved literature or listen to normal radio, etc. etc. because they were the world’s way and we were going for God’s golden highway.
But even more so, one of the hardest facts to embrace for me about my childhood is how little we dealt with difficult emotions. Many Christians–either those who grew up this way or who joined up later–they don’t like to admit their true feelings.
And it isn’t only the men.
Yes, there are many reasons for this. But we tend to even use the Bible as proof that emotions are dangerous and usually irrelevant to what we should do.
Take Jonah, for example. Or Abraham. Or Moses.
We can even tend to think that our ultimate example Jesus, never even broke out of Old King James. Or even cracked a smile, let alone shared about his “feelings.” He may have wept that one time, but we think, he had a far better reason than any of us will ever have.
My dad was a pastor and my mom was a reluctant-but-dutiful pastor’s wife, and we tried to be a family that set the model for our growing and vibrant insular friend pool.
It frustrated me, but it was all I knew.
So when I got to college and learned about literature and writers and all their wild ideas and lifestyles, I was blown away. I had no idea there were such riches beyond what I’d known. I was a kid in a candy store.
I see that now as God’s provision of what I needed in order to find him outside my Christian bubble. He helped me connect up the principles I’d learned in the Bible and at church about how He works in the real world, and how He pursues us even when we’re not aware of it.
And I eventually found He will guide us when we’re finally honest with him about our feelings. He wants a “real relationship” with us as much and far more than we do, even when we don’t want one with him.
That’s what I’ve found. And that’s what I now know.
God will provide. And if we’ll stay with him, he’ll give us a vision and use his provision to help us.
Because he has work for us to do.
And the first work is to heal. I want to talk about how to do that as writers.
Because ultimately, we have more work to do than simply heal. We have to finish a book. Maybe several books.
If you’re a writer, I believe you can learn to allow a unique, God-centered process of writing to work on you its deep revision of your heart.
So I want to give you 3 keys to how I’m seeing this work for myself and the authors I’ve worked with:
- We must GO to where God is at work.
We need to be bold in our work, in pushing beyond where we feel safe.
This weekend, we were busy writing and looking at our hurts and connecting all of it up with our work at the Story Vision Fiction retreat. Writing real heart-level stuff, it’s so hard. I often don’t even want to talk about it.
It’s a chore. But this is the truth about this work.
Because just between us, I don’t often go to where I sense God working, even when I know I should.
And my favorite distraction technique is I get busy.
A while back I made a commitment to keep on track by trying to keep God in my mind and the truth of Jesus’ sacrifice before me at all times—as Oswald Chambers says, “banking everything on Jesus’ atonement, so that grace and my actions coincide.”
Now that sounds very spiritual and I’m sure you’re all very impressed, but I didn’t say I achieved this. I only tried to.
And the truth is I failed miserably at it. Eventually, I decided that if I managed to remember it even once in the midst of procrastinating whether on Facebook or whatever, I have to consider that a small victory.
Which is also only the spirit reminding me and not my own doing.
But last week I was busier than usual and I had many clients all expecting pages and phone calls to walk them through their edits, and also working on the retreat talks and exercises. Oh, and also this talk.
Also, my own novel, which I’ve devoted myself to finishing by Christmas, and several new coaching clients getting ready to publish.
I should have had a nervous breakdown and saved myself the headache.
But I realized the question I continually have to ask myself is, how important is this—what I’m doing right now—to myself and others? And then I need to consider continually if I’m running away from something that’s more important.
We have to go to our Nineva because that’s where God is at work.
We all have our Ninevas. And it’s not just about a physical going. It’s about what’s happening inside. The question is, Am I willing to look and see that or not? That Nineva I don’t want to go to? That’s why being a writer is so hard.
Because we are the ones who have to model this going for the world. We need to go to these external and internal places we’re called to.
But how? And how do we know where that is?
- Follow the pain.
We need to seek the universal pains in our own life stories.
Some say “follow the tears.” The places of pain and especially personal failures to show where God has worked.
This quote is my guiding principle. It comes from Fredrick Buechner:
“My story is important not because it is mine…but because if I tell it anything like right…you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours.”
I believe this is the magical transference we experience if we’ll work to tell our stories right. This is how we go from vision to provision. Because we begin to live out God’s re-vision process through our work as writers.
Your books are about what you’re learning, what you’re capturing from the journey. And all of my authors would tell you their books are ultimately God’s stories. They share universally applicable truth through their own stories and methods.
Writing can lead to an amazing life if we’re willing to see pain not as something to avoid, but to work out. To use. To grow from. To share.
That’s not giggle-fun time. That’s hard. Orwell said,
“All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness…”
To accept this and go beyond our narrow focus on our own pain, we have to know it’s universal. It’s human nature to avoid this stuff.
But you can face it because you’re different. You’re called and enabled. To really know that, that’s the goal.
So face the pain. And how is that done?
I believe it’s done by writing with God.
- We must write with God.
This takes work. We’re weak. We need him. We’re distractible. We’re lost.
We’re not able to hold anything together on our own. We need his help, his advice, his words, his vision, and his provision, to make any of this work. Over the short-term and especially over the long-term.
It isn’t enough just to say you’re a Christian and go to church on Sundays and be a writer all the rest of the time. No. You must integrate yourself.
You have to be a writer and a Christ-follower all the time.
And again, that’s not the easy thing to do. But doing it anyway, consistently, this is the goal.
And will we get there? Yes. Of course we will. If we are persistent. And if we stay with him when we’re writing.
I believe that’s a pretty fair definition of success.
Remember, for now it’s not about a product, it’s about your process. Finishing books is an inevitable result of learning this process of healing. Because when you do, when you heal, then you know what people feel. And you can feel how to help them deal so they can heal. And then, like the Velveteen Rabbit, one day when their fur is rubbed off and their eyes are falling out, maybe they can be real too.
I’m saying we have to simply start to practice this on ourselves. Read the books that will encourage you in it. Refine your process day by day. And be refined as God goes with you.
And I can promise you this, if you do write: feeling, dealing and finally healing, it makes for a very good life.