There is truth in fiction that comes from real life. At the beginning of a story, the character is in angst. They are separated from a love, their lives are in disharmony, their heart is broken. But we pray it won’t stay this way. We pray they find their way, that Harry meets Sally and Luke discovers his identity and destroys the Death Star.
We pray that each character finds their purpose and their meaning and the joy of their own agency, set free.
It’s the stuff in between the angst and the resolution that is so hard. It’s the stuff in between that is so painful, so filled with doubt and challenge.
Nearly every book I’ve written has begun with angst. There was the angst in finding God outside traditional religion (Blue Like Jazz) or forgiving my father (Father Fiction) or wrestling with the Gospel (Searching for God Knows What) and starting each of those books was a painful, angst ridden process. I started each, angry. But we should never write angry books. That’s the stuff of talk-show hosts. That’s not the stuff of prophets, priests or pastors. The angry books will burn with the world while the books that came from a heart of love will live on, not in words but in the people whose lives were guided by them.
Our calling, as Christian writers and Christians in general is to find something more than what our reactions offer to the page. We must find the Holy Spirit, speaking deep and quietly within us, calling us always, and always to love.
Tonight, in a cabin on an island in the San Juan’s, where I’ve been writing for a week, I am repentant about having done it again. I started with angst, with a list of ideas and people I oppose, and yet the Holy Spirit has shown Himself again to say “Don, can you and I offer the world more than your reactions, more than your ideas, more than your self-righteousness? Can we find within that childlike, bitter heart of yours the core of you, the heart that loves, the repentant heart that cares about yourself and others and the one who made you? The heart in you that remembers your Lord Jesus?”
It’s late here on the island. I’m in a forest, not a single house visible through the thick black trees that have stood for a calm century outside this cabin, just outside the windows, just off the porches.
It’s here that I brought my anger and my self-righteousness and after a week of wrestling my ideas against paper I’ve realized the world doesn’t need this book. The world needs me to find the slow beating, steady heart of the adult who has been loved for so long by the forgiving one.
“May we kill this book?” The Holy Spirit says to me. “May we kill this book and bury it in the dark forest and may we light a fire in the cabin and remember the Lord and may we love? May we write a book that loves the reader and hasn’t a second thought about proving anybody else except for Christ is right?”
So yes, we will start over tonight. We will start over and write something the world needs to read, something from eternity, not from the torment of time.
There is no character arc in any book more profound than the arc the writer goes through writing it. Because to write is to grind yourself against the grinding wheel and come out sharp enough to carve butter onto toast for a hungry stranger.
Tonight, I am so sorry I wanted to sharpen that knife for purposes of killing.
You are in a story, too, aren’t you? Is Christ making you more loving, or more right?
I pray we all realize He is making us more loving. More kind. More like Himself.
His enemy is making us more right. His enemy is writing books, too. I don’t want to write those books.
May we love those who read our books, but more, those who read our lives!