Hello to all who have decided to follow along as I post for 21 days straight as part of our church fast. As you can see, each entry is numbered as a particular day, so if you are reading this and the title above doesn’t say Day 1, then you should stop now and go read from Day 1, or take a peek at Day 2 and pick a topic you are interested in. Thanks for being brave enough to join me.
Writing. It has been described in a number of creative ways (imagine that), but my favorite description right now is captured in my email signature and goes as follows:
Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. — George Orwell
I see where Orwell was coming from, and I, sadly, have not fully recovered from that painful illness, even though I have started down the path many times now. You would think I had developed an immunity by now. I have yet to complete a book. I have ten books in progress, at various stages of completion, from rough sketches to nearly completed first drafts. My wife begs me to complete something and I agree with her on that point.
But every November, I infect myself with a new bout of this painful illness by starting a new book for National Novel Writing Month. Every year I tell myself that this time I will be so interested and invested in my new creation that I will not stop writing even into December, into the new year, into the following spring, but it hasn’t happened yet. Invariably, I convince myself to just take a short break and start back up later in December, but the holidays wrap themselves around my intentions and violently smother them. Every year.
What do I get out of it, you might ask? First and foremost, expression. I can safely write about things I fear, like complicated relationships, impossible decisions, or crushing experiences resulting in broken characters. I can project my deepest, darkest fears onto characters and into situations without having to truly experience such things. Best of all, I can hide behind the well-worn mantra of “it’s just a story”.
Not that every crushing experience, impossible decision or complicated relationship is directly based on my personal life. It’s more like I take some of the experiences I have had and inject fiction steroids into them, wildly over-developing their worst aspects, resulting in some unsettling situations for my poor, broken characters, and for my adventurous readers.
Second, I can remove the restraints from my imagination and devise new technology, new challenges, or even entire worlds. I have to be careful in this though – I can get caught up in world-building and stop writing the actual story. It’s fun to create new things – races, currency, languages (those are tough), places, names, religions, or whatever. I believe the trick is making these imaginary things just similar enough to real things that the reader can make a connection, however tenuous. Lots of fun, but can be very hard and even get in the way of the story.
Third, I can make events, people, and circumstances occur, behave and twist exactly how I want them to. I know you’ve watched a movie or read a book and said to yourself, “why don’t they just do this?”. The simple answer to that question is that there would be no story if the answers to the character’s problems were simple, or that obvious. The reader has both the advantage of not being in the story and suffering under the characters’ circumstances, and the disadvantage of not being able to mold the narrative. They’re just along for the ride. They have to deal with every missed opportunity, or stupid decision the characters make.
But as a writer…I get to determine what happens. I get to throw a wrench into the works. I get control of the things I want and can make them as simple, complex, or stupid as I want, because it is my story. There is immense freedom in this, with only a small catch – I have to make it interesting for the reader. If the good guys always have a backup plan, or no one ever gets hurt, or there is no conflict the hero or heroine can’t handle, then it’s not a story any more. It’s just words on a page. If the story doesn’t make the reader desperate to turn to the next page, I’ve failed. But being the one in charge of it all is nice. I know my story from end to end, backwards and forwards, because I created it. I know the resolve of my heroine, the weaknesses of my hero, the next tragedy to strike. It boils down to a feeling of control. Control is nice.
We like to be in control (at least, most of us). But we know, in this life, we are not in control, and that can be scary. At least as Christians, we know who is in control, and we can rest in peace and contentment knowing that His plans are better than our plans, that he has plans to help us, not hurt us (Jeremiah 29:11). That’s not to say we won’t have pain or suffering in this life, but knowing that God is in control can help us through that pain. It’s been said that if God brings you to it, he’ll bring you through it, and at its foundation, this saying is absolutely true, but “getting through it” may mean something totally different to God than to us. We must be willing to let the author of the world work out his plan for our lives.
Thanks for reading to the end! Check back tomorrow as I expound on hope.