Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Writing Through the Tough Seasons

Today's been one of those days.  Oh, I'm sure you know exactly what I mean.  In this case it involved missing kitties.  After finding them, we had to find the trail of...well, never mind...that they left around the house.  The dishes are overflowing the sink (and the counters).  My son put some food items into his diaper.  Everyone's been a bit on edge today.

We've all had those days.

On those days writing can be our refuge.  Or at worst we throw a few words on paper and call it a day.

But what about the other kinds of days.  These days last weeks or months.

         job loss
                            an accident
                                           news that turns your world upside down.

The most difficult season of my own life was when my father died eight years ago.  I could go on and on about the spiritual lessons I have learned.  Yet I believe trials and deep losses can strengthen our writing in several ways.

1) Adds to the believability of your characters: 

Its no secret that the best fiction kicks it up a notch continually in terms of drama.  Each of our characters faces some sort of trial or loss.  As I go through difficult things, I believe it adds new dimensions to my characters as they go through losses.  The characters that stick with us have a depth that is only added to by what we go through in our own life.

Mary DeMuth has a series on her blog where readers share their "thin places" something Mary has done masterfully through her own novels.  Consider journaling at a personal level during these rough seasons and allow God to use it for something more.  The times when I am most real and vulnerable are often the times when God uses my writing the most.  In my brokenness, His strength is most revealed.

2) Gives us a greater understanding of our characters and a greater sympathy for their plight.

As you meet others down the road who have gone through similar circumstances, don't you find yourself feeling a closeness with them?  I am a private person, but when I hear about someone who is going through the death of a parent, I feel led to reach out and send them a note.

Empathy led to my current story idea as I sobbed my way through a documentary on those in a cult.  As we plummet the depths of our character's emotions, all the trials we have gone through can bubble up through the character as we empathize with their plight as a writer.  If we cannot feel deeply for our character's struggles, who will?

3) Trials leave us famished in our own flesh.  These times cause us to crawl on our knees to the God who sees all.  They leave us with a gnawing hunger to feast on God's every word.  

As he fills us as only He can through these difficult seasons, we have more to pour out for our brothers and sisters.  This overflows into our fiction allowing our words to be used to minister to someone else's heart.

Have you ever read a book where the words seemed to leap off the page?  You felt that it was written just for you, to encourage, to teach, to convict?

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  Though you have not seen Him, you love Him.  Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. -1 Peter 1:6-9 (ESV)  

Do you feel the difficult times you have gone through have helped your writing?


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oh yes, indeed, Julia. Seasons of trials deepen us as a person and as a writer. There seems to be a place, a special other-worldy place, where we cross over from pain to peace. When we let God be God and trust in His provision and His plan. I definitely think the hard times help in writing, because we have a deeper understanding of life in general.

Great post, Julia.

Beth K. Vogt said...

A minor case in point: I dealt with earth-twisting and turning vertigo last week. As I lay in bed, feeling like Dorothy caught in the twister, I thought, "One of my characters is going to have to have vertigo! I am not wasting this wretched experience!"
Author Susan May Warren recommends keeping an "emo" journal. When writing a compelling scene, journal a time when you experienced the emotion your character is feeling. Then transfer those emotions over to our scene. (And try not to ever leave your emo journal in the front office of your child's school. It could make people wonder. Not that I've ever done that.)

Angie Dicken said...

Oh yes, Julia! I have read books that have so resonated with my heart that I feel the burden of conviction to change-- Captivating by Stasi Elderidge was a major non-fiction one. As for fiction, I have found myself weeping at times, feeling such empathy and sympathy for the characters...these books always make my top ten list! One book in particular, where I couldn't even pick up the sequel for fear of such emotional investment, was A Thorn In My Heart by Liz Curtis Higgs. I am such a baby, but I know the biblical story, so I couldn't put myself through the fictional one after having walked part of the way with Higgs' Scottish characters!
And on the writing side, I have my greatest writing bursts when I am in a tough time...which is hard to say...but it is therapy for me in a way!
Thanks for this post!

Laura S. said...

Absolutely. Difficult times make us who we are, and therefore helps writers add depth to their characters, whether fictional or personal. :)

Sarah Forgrave said...

Wonderful post, Julia. I feel like God slipped into your fingers and wrote those words Himself...Thanks for sharing.

As for your question, I wouldn't be writing in the first place if it weren't for an extremely dark period in my life. So yes, trials serve a greater purpose that we don't always understand at the time, but that makes perfect sense later (if not on earth, then some day in heaven).

Keli Gwyn said...

Julia, I agree. Adding emotion to our stories can captivate our readers.

Back when I was writing my first historical romance, I came to a scene early in the story where the heroine went to the undertaker's to bid farewell to the man she'd come West to marry. As she stood by his silent form, I pondered how to evoke emotion.

My phone rang, and I learned that my grandmother had just died. I was home alone, feeling bereft and restless. Not knowing what to do with myself and the rush of emotion, I returned to my story and poured my heart into that scene, writing with tears streaming down my face. When friends read the story, that scene was one they noted as memorable.

Casey said...

When we feel deeply, we write deeply.

Trials leave us famished in our own flesh- I love this. Beautiful imaginery Julia.

I really don't know what else to say, except your post is perfect and it has got me thinking. :)

Joy Tamsin David said...

Great post Julia, something popped out at me.

You mentioned you were writing about cults. One of my best friends from high school ended up joining a cult. :( I visited her a few times afterwards to feel out the situation and see if she wanted help leaving, or if she was being held against her will. Anyway, I mention it in case the details of her sitution would be helpful in your research. Shoot me an email if you're interested.

Julia M. Reffner said...

Yes, I so agree, Sherrinda. Although sometimes I have to keep reminding my flesh of that fact.

Please feel free to share with us if you do this how it helps to write about your vertigo. I think a lot of people struggle from this, so it could help someone.

I think the emo journal is a great idea! Thanks for sharing!

Julia M. Reffner said...

@ Angie,
Thanks for sharing the books that have emotionally impacted you. I can definitely understand fearing reading a book because of the emotion it might unleash. Its only recently I've occasionally read books where characters die from cancer...and rarely. It just hits too close to home for me. Maybe at some point you'll want to pick up that sequel.

And yes, writing is so therapeutic for me, too. Something I look forward to more on hard days.

Julia M. Reffner said...

@ Laura,
I couldn't agree more. It definitely shapes our whole experience and our writing.

Julia M. Reffner said...

"So yes, trials serve a greater purpose that we don't always understand at the time, but that makes perfect sense later (if not on earth, then some day in heaven). "

@ Sarah,
I love this statement. It certainly shapes the way we look at our life. And I find it very ingriguing that you started writing during a "dark" period. I find those have been my most fruitful writing seasons.

Julia M. Reffner said...

@ Keli,

I have to admit you have me intrigued to read that scene knowing the emotional involvement. It sounds like God has already used that scene to minister to others. Thank you so much for sharing, what a great example!

Julia M. Reffner said...

@ Casey,

I'm glad it got you thinking. Thanks!

@ Joy,

There are so many tragic stories about cults. I hope your friend has found the healing that she needed.

Beth K. Vogt said...

I talked with Susan May Warren today. Told her about how I was going to make sure one of my characters dealt with a bad bout of vertigo because I wasn't wasting a lost week! LOL! We tossed back and forth who should have vertigo--the hero or the heroine, and Suz settled on the hero, who is not a believer. She saw how the vertigo could be used as an epiphany for him: How his life is based on "sifting sands," so to speak, unstable things . . .
Initially all I saw was the physical aspect of the problem. I loved how Suz saw the symbolism of it!

Pepper said...

Beautiful post, Julia - and one of my favorite sets of verses too (I Peter)
What an encouragement to know that not only are these trials and disappointments of life here to helps us in our writing, they are also 'sanders' to smooth our rough edges so that we look & act more like Jesus.

Beautiful, Julia!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Jumping on late tonight, but so appreciate your post Julia.
Think of it, through our difficult times we bring depth to our characters who then impact the reader. And so God's light shines beyond us:)

Debra E. Marvin said...

Very nice, Julia. We are supposed to take joy in our trials and it's at least a little easier when we know that we always come out of them into a better place emotionally and spiritually if we let the Lord help us through it.

Niki Turner said...

I needed this today! Thank you!