I always wonder how much to say on stuff like this. I’m no expert. I only know how I look forward to reading stuff that’s cost the writer something to share. I want to see blood-and-guts truth splayed out on the pages my authors send. It’s sort of sick and twisted, I know, but I think it’s what readers look for, isn’t it? Something to tell us we’re not alone.
I had an email chat with a friend today, a very smart, upcoming author friend who takes big, honking bites out of life. She shared that she was struggling with keeping her compusure at work on this, the anniversary of her mother’s death, now 7 years past. While I ached for her (and of course, questioned just how deep I wanted to get into things over the computer), I felt compelled to tell her not to bottle that up. As a writer, I know that stuff’s fodder, the best available. Like all of us, she’s got to live with her griefs, share them and reject the decorum that would maintain the walls of solitude. I think this is our mission in life, to show others we’re still living in the grip of sorrow and pain. And this is how they’ll learn from us, how they’ll come to understand their own pain better. You know this. If you write, you can feel this.
I spoke with another writer at lunch, encouraging her to share her recent disappointments in her writing. A novel can become like a journal, a character living out the record of our regrets and loneliness. What goes unshared in life gets put into our pages. Phil Yancey shares a quote by John Updike who says we walk through the “volumes of the unexpressed,” and like snails, leave faint threads excreted out of ourselves. I like the image. This is our ministry. To tear down walls with our shed blood and tears.
I think as an editor, the best of my job is as a therapist, holding up the mirror for writers who are crying too hard to see themselves the way God does. It’s why I love this big ship of Christian publishing so much; there’s such spirit in these souls so engaged in life. And usually writers just need what we all need: to know how people see us so we can show them ourselves. That’s what creating genius means. That’s “waking the dead,” as John Eldredge puts it.
Because in some dark corner of all of us, we’re all fighting the same battle with the manic demon who lies to us, hissing that we’ll never be enough, never be accepted. Everyone fights him.
I’m no psychologist, but facing who we really are is the only way to shove him off. And there are other methods to doing that, but writing is ours. So many of our characters are the parts of us we needed separation from. And once we’ve given them their own life, we can learn from them.
What’s the most important trait of a writer? I think it’s willingness to face suffering. Heart-wrenching struggle. Writers are people who can’t escape, but who ultimately don’t want to because they know it’s their fuel. Writing is life. It is what we do. We’re the pain channels. Vessels of suffering. How else could we hold all of it unless we wrote it out? We have to write it down in order to live with it.
This is it. Our grief. This is living. And this is how they will know how to live. We have to write it.