Friday, December 23, 2016

Challenging Writers to Write Honestly

Writers have a tendency to hide behind their stories when they write. I get it. It's easier. Instead of saying, "Here's what I think," we get to say, "Here's what my character thinks." Instead of saying, "Here's how I feel," we get to show what our characters feel.

It's not as scary: When people peer at our stories and glimpse a real person inside of it, we can just say, "Oh, that's just my character come to life. Not me. Totally not me."

And there's something to be said for that. After all, characters shouldn't be carbon copies of their authors, nor should every single thought and feeling in a book be the exact thoughts and feelings of its creator.

HOWEVER. Sometimes authors get so caught up in hiding themselves that they hide everything else, too: genuine feelings, important thoughts, provoking ideas. They stuff away the parts of the story that matters in an attempt to help themselves feel safe.

But here's the thing: Writing isn't about feeling safe.
Hannah Heath: Challenging Writers to Write Honestly
If you want to feel safe, then go park yourself behind a desk somewhere with a schedule and steady pay. There's nothing wrong with that. It's simply not what being a writer is about.

You shouldn't write to become rich and famous. That takes a long time and doesn't really benefit anyone, except possibly yourself if you are very lucky. You shouldn't write to tell people that the sky is blue. People could just look outside. You shouldn't write to only entertain mindlessly. There are thousands of apps that can do that, and that's about a thousand too many.

You should write because you have something to say. Because you have a message people need to hear, a problem to discuss, something beautiful to share. You write because you have a truth to tell.

Maybe it's your truth. Maybe it's the truth of a friend, or one that you saw on the news one day and just couldn't get out of your mind. Whatever it is, it's there. You can see it, and, because you have the words, it's up to you to make sure that others get a shot at seeing it, too.

But you can't do that unless you're willing to be honest: both with yourself and your readers.

Let me give you an example. I'm a Christian. I believe in Jesus Christ and I want others to, too. I also have Lyme disease, which means I'm in pain all of the time. And I see other people all around me who are in so many different kinds of pain: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional. And you know what? That bothers me. I don't understand why God is allowing that to happen.

But I'm not supposed to talk about that. Not if I want other people to believe in Jesus too. Right? Right???

Wrong. I am a Christian. And I am a writer. God has given me questions. And he has given me words. So it's up to me to write about the problems that I have within my own faith. No, I don't have answers. I wish I did. All I have is pain and anger, love and faith. So that's what I write about in my stories.

And it's hard, because I put these themes into my stories and I know: People can see me. They are reading about my struggles and thoughts and emotions, albeit in different forms and with slightly different takes. But that's me nonetheless.

This was a main concern of mine when I first started fiddling with the idea of Skies of Dripping Gold. I knew that, if I was going to write this story in a way that matters, I was going to have to take the pain and the anger and abandonment I felt because of my sickness and channel it into that story. I'd also have to infuse it with the desperate faith and confused hope I felt.

I thought: "This will be too much." Too much truth. I looked at both myself and my potential readers, my insides screaming:
But then I realized something: Why on earth wouldn't people be able to handle my truth? I couldn't possibly be the only person to struggle with believing in God in the midst of a broken world. And I had the idea that, perhaps, if people could see their struggles on paper, maybe they wouldn't feel so broken by their problems.

So I wrote the story. It hurt, because I had to thrust my hands deep into the darkness and stare directly at all of the ugly problems and scary questions that people like to pretend aren't there.

And you know what? It helped. It helped me with my own pain. It allowed myself (and some of my readers) to look at and fix the anger and fear we didn't think we were supposed to acknowledge. And that's when I decided: If I write, I will write honestly or not at all.

So you know those things that bother you? They aren't going to go away just because you won't acknowledge them in your writing. They're just going to sit inside of you and rankle, just as they sit inside of your readers and eat away at them.

You, as a writer, are not asked to have answers. You aren't expected to know everything or save everyone. You aren't Batman.

You are, however, expected to write truthfully about what matters. It is your job to explore ideas and topics honestly: Write about problems head on, explain beautiful truths so that people can see them clearly.

If you are a writer and don't pursue yours stories honestly, then what good are you? You'll provide some entertainment, maybe even provoke some thought. And then people will put down your book and you'll be gone from their mind. You will have made no difference, helped nobody. Not even yourself.

Write to be remembered.
Do not write to be forgotten. Write to help, to expose, to love, to explore and fear and be courageous. Write to be remembered.

When you sit down before your story, you don't have to pretend. You don't have to make things look better or worse than they are. You don't have to be afraid of what people might think, afraid of whether or not you'll be able to get your point across, afraid of tearing open old wounds. You don't have to say what other people are saying. You just have to say what is true. And you have to say it honestly.

Write long and hard about whatever it is you know that others need to see. Maybe they won't understand it. But you know what? If you try your hardest, it doesn't matter. Because at least one person will see it: You. You have saved at least one person, and that is more than many will do in a lifetime.

What is it that you have to say that you haven't written before? I'm challenging you today: Write honestly. You were given this talent for a reason. You have the words, you have the means, you have the conviction. Do not let it go to waste.

Related articles:
Challenging Creative Writers To Be More Creative
Challenging Writers to Create Stories With Meaning
The Importances of Asking Why: 4 Questions You Should Ask Yourself as a Writer

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  1. I love this post so much, Hannah! It really echoes the struggle I have had the past few weeks with my current WIP and how God has been working in me. I have been so afraid to work on it because it's ugly, dark, and it's like people are going to see the REAL me who struggled with thinks that are ugly and dark. Yet, God was there in all that ugliness and held me even when I was trying to push Him away. I want this story to be stuck in readers minds in how He can do the same for them (and does if they let Him). I'm very thankful that I couldn't write this holiday season because it's a good thing to be transparent through your story and that was something I needed to learn if I wanted to go forward. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I'm so glad this post spoke to you, Laura! I think it's a common struggle (especially among Christian writers, since there's so much need to represent God correctly), but one that can be very scary because we feel so alone in it. So know that I'm in this with you and cheering you on. I'm so happy to hear that you are moving forward on this. That's huge. Go Laura!

  2. This is awesome. You're right that writing honestly helps ourselves...over the last few months, I realized I REALLY struggle with writing happy endings. I wrote a short story that was basically all gloom and doom. When I try to write happy endings, they sound forced and cheesy, so I asked for help from my roommate who write hopeful endings as a given. And I discovered two things. 1: happy endings are not the same as hopeful endings, and 2: I can't write hopeful endings because I have a lot of trouble finding joy in the dark parts of life. So now I'm challenging myself to find more joy, all because of writing! And because of good roommates.

    Yay writer's life! <3

    1. That is so cool, Faith! I love it when our own writing inspires us to change. Thank you so much for sharing. Your story put a smile on my face.

  3. Hannah, this was really great. I really needed this! I am also a Christian who wants to have deeper meaning in what I write, but I'm a major people-pleaser. I've been afraid that people who aren't Christians, or Christians who don't have the same viewpoint as I do, will criticize me and my story and my life will be all doom and gloom. I've briefly considered compromising my beliefs to write something more... worldly, just to get the praise of people I don't even know.
    But where would that get me? Nowhere. I would have just written garbage with no meaning and no hope for the future. And that's not what I'm striving for as a writer.
    So this is really encouraging to hear that other writers out there like me are struggling with the same thing in their faith and trying to live out the truth of the Gospel in such a sinful world. Keep it up! We need more people like you!

    1. I have struggled with the exact same thing, Emma. I'm so glad that you have decided to stand tall and write to please God rather than others. That can be hard, but I believe that in the end your writing will be much better for it. The honesty and the feeling shines through and creates an inspiring story.

      I'm so glad that this post spoke to you. Thank you for the great comment!

    2. Thanks so much for the inspiring blog! I don't know what I would do to get out of writing slumps if it weren't for your posts. :)

    3. Aw. Thank YOU for the kind words!

  4. If a writer harnesses the power of creativity for the purpose of using that power to prove a point or push an ideology, then they risk turning their art into propaganda. A writer should allow their reader to suss out metaphor and symbolism, and of course, all great stories have points and morals and other such things. But a writer, specifically writers of fiction, should never be overbearing with their messages. No reader can enjoy a book when it screams with every page, "I am the Writer, this is what I believe."

    Ideally, a book can be read from start to finish without the writer ever intruding in on the story, and reminding the reader that they are indeed reading.

    1. Very true. I think a careful writer can weave what they believe into their characters so subtly that it doesn't come across as preaching, but whenever you're writing with a POINT in mind, there's always that danger.

      I think what Hannah's saying is that you shouldn't be afraid to give the characters some of your own struggles -- or perhaps put them in a situation similar to your own -- simply because you're afraid it will put readers off.

    2. Good points, J. Casey! I do think it is always necessary to avoid whacking your readers over the head with a message. Being preachy or propaganda-y is never a good thing. However, a good writer is able to convey messages and metaphors clearly in a helpful, beautiful manner and without coming across as annoying or preachy. It takes a lot of work, but it's worth it.

      Thanks for chiming in, Faith! You summed up one of the main points of this post in just once sentence, whereas I had to take over 1,000 words. =D That is skill right there. *fist bump*

      You two are awesome! I always love a good discussion on here. Happy writing!

    3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. An excellent and inspiring message.

    I had no idea you were sick! *looks at Lymie page* Well, now I feel stupid. ;-;

    Can I just say that you are an inspiration and awesome?

    1. Lol! Don't feel stupid. I don't generally talk about it in my main posts, so that's normal not to have known. =D

      I'm so happy you found this post (and me) inspiring. I write for that purpose, so it is massively encouraging to know that I'm reaching that goal. Thank you for the sweet comment! Keep being awesome!

  6. This is so beautiful, Hannah. Writing to show the world not the picture they want to see, but the truths you need tell, is why writing was given to us in the first place. May you never lose sight of that integrity and may you always hold up that mirror with its honesty and "confused hope" in your writing.

    1. Thank you so much, Alena! Can I just say that this entire comment reads beautifully?

      "Writing to show the world not the picture they want to see, but the truths you need tell, is why writing was given to us in the first place."

      I love that. I will always work to keep that in sight (and in the forefront of my writings).

  7. Personally, I think that, within moral reason, writers should write whatever they want for whatever reason they want to, but if this is where a writer is coming from, then their writing definitely has the chance to be something very powerful and very life-changing for the writer themselves and the readers around them.

    Interesting thoughts! I enjoyed reading and it made me think. :)


    1. Hi Alexa! I do agree that writers technically should be allowed to write whatever they want. That being said, it's important to understand that words have a massive impact on people. With that in mind, writers should be careful about what it is they are writing so as to be helpful and not destructive.

      So glad you enjoyed reading this post! Thank you for the thought-provoking comment!

    2. Oh yeah, I definitely agree there! I just think that, if someone wants to write for fun or just to entertain themselves or others, as long as they're not writing anything bad, then that would be okay too. :)

    3. Oh, totally! Funny writing is a favorite of mine. Being the writer who can make people smile (or make yourself smile) is a gift. =)

  8. Thank you so much for this post. My current w-i-p is the first novel I've managed to write a complete first draft of, have continued to work on and WILL finish to a standard that doesn't suck. I believe this is because it's the novel where I finally figured out how I wanted to say what's been burning in me for so many years. I'd made many attempts at writing novels before, but I was too young to make sense of all those issues that were dear to me in a way that I could draw together into a cohesive theme. I guess I needed to grow up a bit first. :)

    And yeah, some parts have been harder to write than others. Even now I get those feelings of guilt, that I 'shouldn't' be writing this, that it's 'not fair to readers' to hit them with such painful subjects when I'm 'supposed to be entertaining them.' But you're right, our job as writers is to wipe the windows clean of the mist so readers can see what's really on the other side.

    1. Often we do need to grow in certain areas to write about things. I know I did (and still do...and always will).

      I'm so excited that you've found a WIP that makes you excited and fulfilled. I'm sure you will get it to the point where it doesn't suck. If it even sucks at all, which it probably doesn't. Writers tend to see their own work in the worst possible light. =D

      I'm cheering you and your WIP on! Keep up the amazing work!

  9. Very helpful post,I am also a Christian writer who searched for answers about reasons why God allows pain and suffering, I'm glad I found them and I also want to share. I hope this site helps you a lot Hannah because you have helped me become a better writer.


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