Writing on Holy Ground

I'm not going to lie. This year has been rough. There have been rather a lot of stressful days, anger, confusion, fear...more failure than I like to admit. I haven't talked about it much because I can always look around and see others who seem to be having a harder time than I am. I'm generally inclined to doubt the legitimacy of my own problems and it isn't 'til afterwards, when I'm walking in the light at the end of the tunnel, that I look back and realize, 'wow! That was bad!' But, as with all rough times, I find that I have more reason for gratitude than for lament. Sure, it hasn't been fun, but I have learned a lot. Hardship reveals character, and I've found out a great deal about mine. I have flaws. Lots of them. But my God is oh, so good, and I have confidence that He'll see me through.

One (rather unexpected) benefit is that these trials are finally shaping me into the writer I've always wanted to be. Some of you readers may be aware of my propensity for writing mediocre prose fiction. I've been scribbling out short stories and starting (and abandoning) novels ever since I learned how to write. My writing got to the point of being rather decent...but nothing more than that. Always, always, in the back of my mind there lurked the knowledge that something was missing. My writing lacked depth, soul, that elusive yet unmistakable ring of solid truth.

So I put my big writing aspirations aside until I was older, stronger, wiser. I focused on my blog, my poetry and my photography. That worked. I was satisfied. No more wrangling with characters who didn't ring true, plot lines that didn't come together, places that didn't seem real. I drew comfort from a vision of myself as a silver-haired seventy-year-old, sitting down at last to a beautiful master-work of wit and wisdom and the deep truths of the human soul. I mentioned this plan to my sister, Carrie, supposing that if anyone, anywhere, was going to understand, she probably would. Her response shocked me. She encouraged me to (I paraphrase), "just write, even if it isn't very good."

I dismissed her words at the time, but I couldn't ignore them for long. I had the suspicion that she was probably right. Several of my long-buried plots and characters resurrected and began to pester me. No matter where I went or what I did, a character was plucking at my elbow, begging 'write me! Write me!' I was desperate. My options seemed to either be 1) Write or 2) Gradually go mad under the sheer weight of the stories begging to be written.

I began to pray. I had never prayed about my writing before, but this time I was scared stiff and I knew that I would need some serious help if I wanted to make something worthwhile. Very, very cautiously, I began to gather some ideas, pull together some plots and some characters. Inspirations began to crowd in thick and fast. Huge, crazy, God-sized inspirations. I started to write, timidly at first, but gradually gaining speed and boldness.

Now? I am going somewhere. I'm not sure where, because experience has taught me to expect the unexpected when God's in control.

I asked Him to help me write well.

And that's where the pain comes in.

Pain is never arbitrary or random in the life of a Christian. If 'in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose' (Rom. 8:28), then pain can be re-purposed for good.

My good.

Your good.

The good of my stories.

If you're going to write a relatable character who goes through relatable hardship, you need to know a little something about hardship. An empathetic soul like mine can understand a great deal that is outside its experience, but there is a point at which real experience becomes a necessity. The truth of this hit me one day - a really, really bad day - when I found myself wanting to quit. I don't frequently want to just throw in the towel and run away, but on that particular day, hiding seemed like an excellent idea. As I was plotting my escape, and perhaps getting a bit angry with God, the thought hit me, 'you're acting just like one of your characters.' And I stopped, shocked, and started to laugh. It was true. And in that moment, I suddenly understood one of my story's inhabitants in a way I'd never done before.

That was the day I began to understand something to which I had previously granted lip service but never fully acknowledged: Each of my experiences, whether good or bad, can help me craft better characters (in addition, of course, to helping craft a better me). I understood that, as I mature, my characters will become deeper. As I discover more truth, my stories will become more truthful. As I uncover the real meaning of joy, my stories will be increasingly filled with the joy that transcends mere happiness.

If a story is to be alive, it must be based on genuine living. It must be written by someone who is living; truly living.

I don't need to be 'all grown up' to write. My stories will grow with me.

I'm living life. I'm writing life. God gets involved, and everything starts to run together in a sort of glorious mess that is far better than anything I could envision on my own. It's wonderful, but I must walk a very fine line very carefully. I can not barge ahead, writing everything with complete confidence, because...let's face it...I've still got a lot to learn. But neither can I let the fear of getting it wrong keep me from trying.

I need God. I need Him to show me what to write and how to write it and keep me from being afraid to write. I suppose it's not a very normal thing for a person to pray over a work of fiction...but I do. And as I learn about writing, my eyes are opened more and more to the glorious wonders of God's creativity, grace, truth and beauty. I think my life is benefiting from my writing as much (if not more) than my writing is benefiting from my living.

Life isn't always fun, but I've become increasingly convinced that it is good. Very, very good. I stated above that, for a child of God, there is always a purpose in pain. I have unfailingly found this to be true, though at times, I've had to wait a while before I began to find out what that purpose was. Waiting isn't fun. It has been a comfort for me to find a more immediate purpose for some of the unpleasant bits of my life by channeling them into a story. In story, pain can so quickly be transformed into beauty. Writing this transformation helps me cling to my faith that beauty for ashes will eventually happen in real life. Just as I see the end of my characters' stories, and know how all of their trials will eventually work out for their ultimate welfare, God sees the end of my story...and I have absolute faith that it will be surprising and beautiful and good.

And lest you start to think that, with all this talk of trials, my writing must be awfully dismal and depressing, let me assure you that it's not. I'm channeling lots of joy into my stories, too. :)

And lots and lots of prayer.

I was meant to write. I understand this now. I think that to not write would be almost as wrong as writing purely for my own selfish pleasure, as I did before. To write is to create. To create is to experience a special unity with Creator God. Writing is, for me, a form of worship. As with all worship, the best, most meaningful experiences come, not on the sunlit mountaintops, but in the darkest of valleys.

So on my happy days you'll find me...writing.

On the darker days you'll find me...writing.

And in the midst of the writing you'll find me...worshiping.

For this is holy ground.


  1. Wow, well done Janie! Thanks for the reminder to see God and his beauty in every aspect of life, both pleasant and otherwise.

  2. That is so awesome, Janie! So much of this resonated with me. Thank you. If you ever need a beta-reader, you have my contact info. =)

    1. Thanks, Erin. I will probably send some work your way at some point. :)

  3. We sometimes find encouragement here: http://jasonandkelliwoodford.blogspot.com/?m=1
    A friend who writes/blogs and whose latest post is reminiscent of yours

    1. Thanks for the link! I enjoyed poking around on Chronicles of Grace.

  4. Oh my! So many comments! I'm feeling a trifle overwhelmed.


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