Writing Life

Sharing is nice

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.

Sharing is nice

7 thoughts on “Writing Life”

  1. “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.”
    Amen.

  2. I’ve written a novel that falls short of what you’ve described here, Mick, and I’ve come to realize it in recent weeks. I interjected into the story a piece of my past, the death of a sibling, which in the book is something that happens 25 years before the novel begins. I succeed, I think, in infusing the emotional repercussions of the long-ago loss into a couple of the characters in the family, but I conveniently skipped writing the parts that made me weep when I imagined them.
    I have to use my pain to give my characters and their relationships the emotional depth they deserve. I worry sometimes that if I haven’t “correctly” grieved in my own life, I can’t use my experience, but hey, this is fiction! I don’t have many answers, but I have emotion, and hope. It’s enough–if I dare to write it. Thanks for reinforcing what I know God’s asking me to do.

  3. nothing irks me more than a flat stanley author, who thinks their glib opinions of life are the truth we’ve all be pining for. AAAaaggh! get a clue. but the dilemma for those who pour their “entrails” upon the page is the heavy shoed foot of one who trods upon it. yes, i have a poem about that. just takes one to maim the crippled. you are too few mick. suz.

  4. I doubt I’m the only one, but do you ever wonder where some of your ideas come from? I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised if God chooses to use our clacking fingers. But my view behind these dirty eyes really shouldn’t be the place where these deep things gestate. I just doesn’t stand to reason…
    And another thing: there’s so much more chaos from one day to the other. It’s nigh unto impossible to dig into one of the other volumes of the unexpressed to find what might be inside waiting to spring out. I’ve found that it’s simply the daily practice of writing that makes those suprises more regular.
    Keep writing, kids.

  5. Writing life is writing death. Hello Mick, longtime reader, first time poster. I wallow in death and misery for a living: I am a tv news writer/producer. I once looked forward to putting my talents on display for millions on a daily basis. In 2000, I lost that zeal in numbing fashion. I watched a 15-year old girl quietly bleed to death in front of me. It was on tape, but it was powerful. We, of course, did not broadcast that video. I did not have time to think about what I had just witnessed–I was asked next to do a hard-hitting story on a water-skiing squirrel. I went home that day, crawled into a bottle, and wept. Then, I got dressed and went back to work the next morning. Not the most spiritual response, I admit, but there it is. I wish I could say that the pain and shock go away. But it doesn’t. I smile and joke with co-workers and friends to put up a strong front. But then, sometimes, when it’s quiet, I see her face. The glazed stare. The termors through her body. The final, labored breath. There’ve been many other stories since then. Some I remember, others I don’t. The emotions, however, have stayed. I’ve channeled the pain, helplessness, and longing into many a short story and screenplay. They say time heals all wounds. That of course is crap, for if that is true, what need would we have for Christ? Avoiding pain is a useless pursuit. Think about it, pain and suffering are the only things the faithful are promised, at least in this life. I hear, it’s supposed to get better. Maybe that’s why we long for “happy endings”…maybe that’s why we don’t mind ‘riding off into the sunset,” no matter how corny it is. I guess it speaks to that whole “new heaven and new earth thing.” Sorry if I’ve rambled. Before sitting to write this post, I had to write Terri Schiavo’s obit. Another day, another heartache, another hope…Time’s up.

Discuss...