Why do you write?

For the past couple of months, I've found myself up against that horrid brick wall that every writer dreads facing: Writer's Block. I've struggled with my own blank brain cells and that "other" bane of a writer's existence commonly known as "real life". Between this 'rock and a hard place' I'm feeling drained, fatigued, and just downright empty.

Ever feel that way?

Nothing makes sense. All the notes I've made for my various projects might as well be written in Greek. Times like these cause me to wonder why I am so committed to writing in the first place. Self-doubt, like any enemy attack, always hits when we are at our most vulnerable, never -- EVER -- when we are strong enough to laugh in its face.

So why DO we write? Unless your name is Stephen King or Danielle Steele, you are most likely NOT writing for the money! Considering the amount of time it takes from conception of the "idea", to research, to execution of the plot, to review, rewrite, correct, rewrite again, then submit to a publisher, more corrections, and finally to market and distribute ----- well, this is probably one of the least paid positions one can aspire to!

Is it for fame? Again, there are ALOT of folks out there writing and marketing their books. I'd love to believe that all of us will land on the best seller list in the next couple of years. But competition is heavy. Maybe we will; maybe we won't. The only One Who knows the answer to that particular question is God, and He doesn't usually tell us too much in advance! (After all, if He let us in on what tomorrow holds, we might not have the courage to get out of bed in the morning...)

I've always loved to write stories. From the time I was old enough to hold a No. 2 pencil, I amused myself by writing adventures. My first literary ventures came about when my Dad was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany in the mid-60's. No television, few friends when we first arrived, and a nasty case of strep throat (acquired aboard ship while crossing the Atlantic) kept me in quarantine for quite some time. So -- I wrote! Humble beginnings, and certainly nothing I'll ever allow to be seen! But God nurtured that little seed which blooms today in my heart.

I shelved my novelistic impulses for many years, reserved the pencils for book reports and pen pal correspondence, and Mom kept those early stories locked safely away with her Mother's Day cards and paper doily Valentines. I had all but forgotten that childish dream until the late '80's. My family had settled in Denver, Colorado. Every year, Denver hosts a huge Sunday School Convention, which encompasses every facet of lay ministry and covers any and every denomination. I signed up for various classes. To this day, I don't remember any of them --- except one. The "Writing for Publication" class caught my eye, but I shook my head and told myself that it would be a waste of my time. I headed for another class in that time slot, only to be met by a note on the door saying "class cancelled". Consulting my list, I chose another class --- and found the same note on THAT door. Rolling my eyes, I grumbled, "Alright, alright, Lord. You don't have to cancel the entire conference to get my attention. I don't know WHY You're insisting, but I'll go."

That was it. I was hooked.

I remember shrieking, crying, laughing, praising, and dancing around the livingroom when I got my first acceptance letter and a check for $20. My first poem sold to a magazine for the Assemblies of God, The Pentecostal Evangel. I'll never forget that feeling. My poetry has always been an intensely personal expression. Sharing it was scary. I felt like I was allowing the world a glimpse into my soul. Then I realized that my soul belongs to Jesus, and if He wanted the world to see inside me --- well, that's His right as my Lord and Savior! If it sounds like it all came easily, I assure you it did NOT! My rejection slips far outweighed the acceptance letters. Someone once said that you know you're a writer when you can wallpaper a room with your rejection notices. Sad but true. But I plowed on for a couple of years and began seeing more and more of my work make it to print. I felt like I had finally found my niche in the Kingdom of God.

Then that "real life" stuff clobbered me, and I don't mean a little slap on the face. I'm talking about knock-down/drag-out warfare, and beaten to a bloody little spiritual pulp. There were several years of parenting difficulties, deaths in our families, frequent moves, stress and division -- and finally divorce. We always think, "...that'll never happen to me." Famous last words. I'll tell you what follows closely on the heels of those words: "What could I possibly have to offer the world? I couldn't even hold my marriage together..."

Don't you ever believe it!

God has proven His diversity --- and His incredible sense of humor! -- over the centuries. If He can use a wanderer's staff, the jawbone of an ass, and a talking donkey, I guess a divorced woman isn't much of a leap! Getting back to my initial question: why do we write? Over the past couple of years, writing has literally saved my sanity, giving me something to focus on besides the pain of a disabling shoulder injury, keeping me from tripping headlong into that pit called self-pity, and exercising a talent that does NOT require physical strength. It has also restored some semblance of value to my life. If I do nothing else in this world, I want to help others see value in their own lives; I want to show people that they are priceless to Almighty God.

Why do you write? Dollar signs? Don't hold your breath! Fame? Fleeting and as illusive as the morning mist.

To give the Lord another tool for His workshop? To help repair the damage souls suffer in this spiritually ravaged world? To hold out hope to weary, defeated people?

Ah, now THERE'S a worthy goal.

Now if someone can just invent a cure for that pesky writer's block....


Dan Edelen said...

I write because no one is writing the kinds of works my friends and I like to read. I enjoy "Twilight Zone"-ish kinds of works that make you think, provide a clever finish, and tackle topics others ignore. I also appreciate witty, humorous writing, something sorely lacking in Christian circles.

In fact, I'd say that the majority of Christian fiction fails to offer those qualities. I can't remember the last Christian novel I read that had a clever finish, for instance.

I know so many people who would embrace spec fic written from a Christian worldview. I hear them complaining at the increasingly anti-Christian worldview in most of the spec fic written in the ABA market. Some of the voices there are becoming more shrill, but we have little to offer.

The problem for the cutting edge spec fic writer attempting to penetrate the Christian market is the need to fall on his or her own sword. Until publishers wake up, anyone venturing into that market will be sacrificed. Sure, one day they might be considered a trailblazing genius, but who wants to write great books publishers under-market or toss out into the market with a pat on the back and a half-mumbled thanks? I don't want to be the Christian equivalent of Robert E. Howard, if you catch my drift.

Daniel I Weaver said...

Well first, the why I write: For me, I write for two reasons. The first is that it's always been my passion. I fell in love with it at a very young age and have probably written at least 10 or so books just for the fun of doing it (that doesn't count short stories, poems, songs, etc). The second, is that after a few years away without ever putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) I felt led to do it (yeah, yeah, everyone here probably does).

Now, the why I write what I do: I'll break that out into three reasons. The first: impact. I write more of the darker side of spec fic in the horror / supernatural thriller categories. Time and again, a good scare is something people don't forget. It just works as a medium to share a story.

Second, my life belongs to Christ. It's not really an option. He gave me the gifts I have, He worked out the path that led me here, He is my King, my brother, my savior, my friend. To use this gift for anything that didn't glorify Him would be stealing and an insult.

Third, the evangelistic potential. I'm fully aware of the need to avoid "preachy" writing and I don't try to do that at all. But there are a LOT of folks out there that love scary stories (look at Hollywood as an example and the simple fact that the Horror genre is one of the most lucrative they have). Sadly, MOST of the scary stories out there are in many ways anti-Christian. I don't think that it's any coincidence that Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti find themselves atop the bestseller lists or move so many titles. There is a multitude of people who love horror and "dark" fiction that are also longing to be fed or might not otherwise ever experience anything "Christian" in a positive way.

So, for me, I write because I love it, because He gave me the tools to do it, and because I have seen how much the written word can affect lives.

For His glory,
Daniel I Weaver

chrisd said...

What a wonderful post, Deb.

I write because I can't help myself. It helps me process my thoughts and feelings in a way that nothing else can.

I now write because I want people to be drawn to Christ, but it took a long time and a lot of courage for me to do it.

Thank you for this post, Deb!

Frank Creed said...

Since I just answered the why-I-write question on Rebecca Miller's Speculative Faith blog, I'll try my hand at solving writer's block. I'm dead serious. Since the closed-head injury I endured in that 1998 collision, I've not experienced writer's block. But because of my disability, I've been very conscious of my mental process, and have learned some tricks.
As writers, we have many things to do on our computers. As long as there's no deadline in your equation, try these techniques:
When I sit down and find my creative side jamming, I open explorer and do networking stuff. Conversely, when I need to address business tasks and the darn muse keeps pestering, I open the WPS WIP file and get-to-it.
I realize every writer has their own personal "system", but I've come to depend on this one, and I think anyone would benefit from this disciplined-database approach. I keep obsessively detailed notebooks for each of my Bib-spec-fic sub-genres, high fantasy and cyberpunk. In these established settings, I have literally dozens of character profiles. I've been detailing these settings and characters for about fifteen years.
The value?
I see a death penalty story on the news.
That darn muse, watching Oprah from her frontal-lobe recliner, makes a few brain-cell-calls.
Next thing you know my switchboard's jammed by a Northern-Cal utopian pacifist, a death-wishing tragic father who's lost his family in rehabilitation wards, a protagonist who wants to save the world, and agents from three One-State organs. And that's just the cyberpunk extension.
Writer's notebooks solve writer's block.

Andrea Graham said...

I write because as a kid, I escaped my painful reality (see my current post) into daydreams and fantasy worlds I started penning on paper (literally to begin with) at adolescence.

Thankfully, God ran in after me and drew me back to the Truth. We're now at work redeeming a bad habit (one I still struggle with) and in the process of re-writing those manuscripts (most of them bad on every level to start) I've become a complimentary help-mate to my writer husband.