Every month or two, I try to designate a blog post to pausing and exploring the current state-of-the-union in my writing journey: how it’s going, what I’m learning, what I’m struggling with, and what concepts are at the forefront of my thoughts. I do this largely for myself and for the insights revealed in the process of creating such an update, but I also do this for other writers that might be tuning in. Often, these posts are narrow in focus, and the content is primarily relevant for people who call themselves writers.
Today’s post is an exception, and I believe the subject is relevant whether you call yourself a writer or not. Why? Because we all get scared sometimes, and the concept that I’ve been wrestling with and mulling over in my writing journey is fear.
The more I look, the more I see fear at the root of problems in my writing and personal life. Technically speaking, my writing process is fantastic in the present season, and that’s how I generally respond when people ask how it’s going. My work-in-progress is somewhere around 30,000 words, the discovery approach continues to provide creative freedom and space, and I’m getting words on the page consistently. The story is fun, I like how the characters and plot are developing, and I’m having a good time watching it unfold.
But my complete writing journey is so much broader and complex than a work-in-progress status. The big picture encompasses the why of writing, the purpose in sitting down and stringing words together, and the vehicles through which those words are shared. More and more, I find myself feeling compelled to write non-fiction, to tell personal stories that are vulnerable and challenging, and to tell those stories honestly. When I explore these subjects as writing exercises, I dive into them with such intense focus that I lose track of time as well as my basic human needs, like water and bathroom breaks. I reach a stopping point, shake my head a little, and look around with a dazed look on my face, having entirely forgotten my surroundings for an hour or two. Sometimes I’m even a little winded, like I forgot to breathe often enough while I was writing.
For those of you who don’t write, it’s worth noting that this sort of head space is pure writing gold. The work is fueled by intuition, and it produces an uninterrupted stream of thought that is untainted by tandem concerns or distractions. Most importantly, perhaps, the intense focus drives out any and all fear that is often present in writing.
As fearless as the writing itself can be, the compulsion to write more non-fiction is absolutely terrifying. The thought ignites a long list of anxiety-ridden questions, all rooted in various fears:
What happens to my work-in-progress if I spend more time on non-fiction?
Will I ever finish a novel?
Am I hurting my marketability by pursuing multiple genres? How will I get an agent?
What if I make a full switch to non-fiction? Am I being fickle, or is this the right move?
How will my loved ones respond if I continue to explore challenging topics like abuse?
Will the non-fiction topics that I’m compelled to explore require too much courage, beyond my capacity to be vulnerable?
And so it continues. When I see laundry lists of questions forming as above, I try to stop, take a step back, and breathe. What am I freaking out about, and what question do I need to resolve?
In this case, that leads me to the following conclusion: I’m freaking out because I don’t know what I should write. So why, exactly, do I write?
This is the point in the conversation where God steps in. If the thread of faith irritates you as you keep up with my blog, I understand—trust me. When I was in college, I lived with three Christian roommates, but wasn’t a Christian myself yet. I was super turned off and frustrated by the fact that every single conversation with my roomies always ended up coming back to God. The books scattered around the apartment were the most obvious sign of the problem: on every coffee table or available horizontal space, I saw titles like “Jesus and Dating,” “Jesus and Friendship,” and “Jesus and Work.” It was like living in a Christian bookstore, and as a non-Christian, that was frustrating as hell. I told my roommates how I felt, and asked them to consolidate into piles, at least, for my sake. It was my apartment too, and I didn’t appreciate the visual and conversational nudges suggesting that I was a heathen in my own home!
So I totally get it if you’re throwing your hands up in the air and thinking to yourself, “Man, she’s talking about God again? Why do I even read this blog?” I don’t blame you for feeling that way, and I know from experience how isolating the mention of God or Jesus can be in conversation. But I invite you to read anyway, to take away what works for you, and explore the ideas even if they’re foreign or frustrating. If you hate the mention of God, reach out and let’s have a conversation about it instead of allowing our differences to put space between us. My goal is never to isolate or alienate non-Christians, but simply to write truthfully, without filters or fear. I’d wager that it’s about as uncomfortable for me as it is for the listener when I know I’m talking about God with someone who doesn’t believe in God. (More on that particular fear in a minute!)
The truth is that the radical impact of the gospel on my life is so pervasive that I physically cannot separate it from my professional endeavors—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are interwoven into every aspect of my life, whether that reality is convenient or not.
That brings me back to my previous question—why do I write? There are a bunch of reasons that could motivate someone to write: to make a living, to sell books, to share stories, to inspire, to explore concepts, to learn, to grow, to observe, to comment, to challenge, to heal. As I write, many of these options are motivating factors. But as a Christian, I have to constantly align my own choices and direction in life with the Word of God. According to the Bible, everything that I say, think, or do should be directed toward the glory and praise of God. My writing is no exception. So every time I write, no matter what I write about, the act of writing is an invitation to worship, and to give all of the glory and praise to God.
Of course, that can be achieved through fiction or non-fiction. C.S. Lewis certainly glorified God in The Chronicles of Narnia, just as much as Brennan Manning did in Ruthless Trust and The Ragamuffin Gospel. There are many more subtle examples, too, but the genre or vehicle for praise is not the problem. The problem, in my case, is fear.
There is a great deal of fear involved in writing at all, and in tossing one’s thoughts out into the digital abyss for all to see. But the fear increases as the writing gets more exposing, or countercultural. So writing about hard issues like anxiety, spiritual abuse, loneliness, and sexual assault in the context of Christianity is about as scary as it gets.
Somewhere in a previous blog post, I made a passing comment about the moment that I became a believer, and said something like “I’ll never be able to do that story justice.” That’s a bunch of crap, of course. God will use my story no matter how poorly I tell it! The reality is that I’m absolutely terrified to make the attempt, and to put the story out in the open. In addition to worrying about the responses from my friends and family, I find myself worrying about the responses of the general public, and especially my non-Christian friends.
What if I alienate my non-Christian friends, whom I love and want to stay in relationship with?
What if I lose clients because they’re turned off by the spiritual-lean of my blog content?
What if my stories and experiences are lost in the sea of false-Christianity running rampant in our culture today, especially in light of the political climate and the regular (false) Biblical claims from the alt-right?
Fear, fear, and more fear.
What do I do with that mountain of anxiety? Fortunately, the Bible has a few things to say on the subject of fear. The word ‘fear’ itself appears more than 500 times in the KJV, and depending on how you count ‘em and which translation you use, the command “do not fear,” “fear not,” or “do not be afraid” appears between 112 and 365+ times. Great, fine, thanks God. But letting go of fear is easier said than done!
However, that’s exactly what the gospel achieves for us—the ability to cast out fear and trust fully in the sacrifice of Jesus, through the love of God the Father. There is no fear or worry that stands up in the face of the gospel, because Jesus has conquered everything from shame to death itself.
My favorite reference for this is Matthew 6:25-34, mostly because I think Jesus is being hilarious. When I read those verses, I translate them in my mind to something like, “Yo! The Father feeds the birds, and they’re smart enough not to worry about whether or not he’ll follow through. Chill out. God’s got you.”
In my long list of “What ifs” and fears about writing, there is no single concern that can stand up in light of the gospel. Yes, I’m afraid of what people will think. Yes, I’m afraid of being put to shame. Yes, I’m afraid of losing friends and alienating neighbors. Yes, I’m afraid that I will hurt someone’s feelings. But none of these negate the promises of God, or the sacrifice of Jesus.
So as I feel compelled to write more non-fiction, I’m going to write more non-fiction and let God worry about the rest. I’m going to write vulnerably, as honestly as I can, and share my experiences. I’m going to talk about hard subjects like anxiety, loneliness, and abuse, because they are relevant to so many hurting people out there, and they resonate in the deep, hidden centers of our selves. I’m going to talk about these things, because these topics need to be discussed more often in the name of healing and hope. I will share, because it is Biblical to name our failings, our weaknesses, and our fears, and to learn to rely more fully on the power and person of Jesus.
This is where I am in my journey. I don’t know exactly where it all leads, and I don’t plan to set my fiction work down altogether; my compulsion is simply to invite other topics and projects into the mix. For now, I’m taking it one day at a time. I’m learning to lean on the promises of God, to be fearless as I share the full truth of what He has done—and is currently doing—in my life, for His glory and my good. God’s glory is more important than my comfort, no matter how exposed I feel in the process.
In this blog, you can expect to see more mention of my relationship with God, and issues of spirituality explored. If that bothers you, I’ll remind you once more that my writing is completely intertwined with my faith; they are inseparable, forever blended together to create the ‘new me’ that lives in the power of Christ (Colossions 3). Let’s get together and talk about it, and above all, let’s not let our differences get in the way of our relationships. There’s quite enough divisiveness and “us vs. them” in our world already. I invite you to dig into the icky awkward stuff with me, and to see what happens when we don’t run away from the hard topics—an honest look at faith and spirituality included!