“What do you want to be someday?”
“I’m not sure. What do you want to be?”
“I want to be a writer.”
“Really? That’s cool.”
Although I don’t remember the conversation verbatim after all these years, the altogether uninspiring conversation above was what began the process of getting me to the place where I am today. Unfortunately, I was the one who said “I’m not sure,” and my friend was the one who said she wanted to be a writer. Until that moment, it had never entered my mind that I might want to be a writer. It was only when she said it that I realized that being a writer was the unarticulated desire of my heart. As a mature Christian, I now understand that it was the Holy Spirit using the opportunity to guide me into what He wanted me to pursue.
Oh, I loved to read. For my eighth birthday, my father sent me a copy of the Black Stallion. I knew it was a book for children older than I was, and I was flattered that my father thought I was capable of reading it. So I plunged in and started reading. I understood very little of what I read. The vocabulary was over my head, as were the sentences that were more complex than the ones I was accustomed to from my school readers. So, desperate to not fail to live up to my father’s expectations, I immediately read it again. The second time through, everything made perfect sense. I promptly proceeded to read every book that Walter Farley wrote and then progressed to other authors who wrote for children older than I was. In the sixth grade I tested at twelfth-grade reading level on a standardized test. When I was in the seventh grade, my friend who would later tell me she wanted to be a writer decided to read Oliver Twist. Not to be outdone by her, I read Great Expectations. Again, I understood very little of it and had to read it a second time before I was able to conquer Dickens. For a few years, I read nothing but the classics. By the end of the ninth grade, I was reading on the post-college-graduate level. But in all of that reading, it had never occurred to me that I might be able to create literature.
In college, I took a creative writing class as one of my English credits, and I probably learned a little about writing fiction. But the main thing I learned was that I was almost paralyzed by self-consciousness about putting my writing out in the world for others to see. What I learned in that class was that it’s one thing to dream of being a writer and being respected by the public for my talent, but the reality is that putting my writing out in the world is for me a terrifying exercise in vulnerability. It’s inescapable that whatever topic I write about, whatever opinions I express, whatever plot choices I make, a part of my innermost thoughts and experiences and emotions is exposed. It’s as if a piece of my soul were placed on my shoulder for all the world to stare at and comment upon. And of course, the world can be brutal, especially when critiquing art.
I wasn’t like everybody else as a teen (obviously—nobody but me and my friend were reading The Last of the Mohicans and A Tale of two Cities and Les Miserables for fun), and I was persecuted for it. Nowadays we would call it bullying. Back then, we just called it being mean. It amazed me at one point to learn that some people really don’t much care what others think of them, but it was excruciatingly important to me. As other kids laughed at me in the hallways at school, I learned to keep my thoughts to myself, to try to melt into the wallpaper, to be inoffensive. I was trying to hide in plain sight. At some point in adulthood, I realized that I was employing the same tactic with Satan. I’ve had my share of heartache in life, some of which I could have avoided, but most times I was bushwhacked and had my legs cut out from underneath me by an enemy that is determined, sadistic, and creative. As I had learned to do in public school, I was living like a rabbit that only ventures out of its burrow cautiously when it appears that the coast is clear. I held in and held back and dreamed of the day when I would be praised for my beautiful writing.
When I started writing in earnest I was thirty, with no training other than the class in college. I was too self-conscious even to tell my husband what I was up to at first. We had no computer then, so I wrote by hand in a spiral notebook. I spent so many hours hunched over that notebook that I gave myself a pinched nerve in the neck that required a trip to the emergency room. I had to divulge my dark secret then. Over the years, I divulged it to an individual here and there, but only when the Holy Spirit made me. “Miserable” is the only word that does justice as a descriptor of the complex frustrations that roiled inside me. A few years ago, I realized that I had the cart before the horse, as some of us still say. I wanted for God to make me unafraid. I wanted Him to miraculously pair me with someone who would recognize my calling and make everything work out for me painlessly. But then I heard Joyce Meyer say that I should “do it scared.” In all honesty, I can say that it had never occurred to me that I could do such a thing. My fears were too big in my own mind to even contemplate audacity on such a scale.
God told me to publish my books free on the internet, but I wanted someone who knows good writing to assure me that my writing was good. God told me to publish my writing free on the internet, but I wanted to know what the next step was. God still tells me to publish my writing free on the internet. I am well aware that publishing my writing free on the internet without knowing what the next step is sounds ludicrous by any human standard, and there is no part of me that wants to look foolish in that way. I work with intelligent people who are not Spirit-filled who will undoubtedly not understand what I’m doing. I don’t look forward to the scrutiny and puzzlement. The only part of me that isn’t terrified is the part of me where the Holy Spirit lives, and He’s a fire shut up in my bones. I don’t know what the end result of all this will be, but I had a story printed and gave it away at our Easter service this morning. It’s a much-improved rewrite of the story I wrote in that creative writing class in college. I bought the domain for this blog and will probably have to spend money to create a website on which to publish my first book. I think I’m starting to understand how Noah must have felt (not really—building a huge boat for that new thing called “rain” was far crazier than what I’m doing). I never wanted to know how Noah must have felt, but God rarely calls anyone to a life of feeling comfortable.
To this day, I have never been able to get any usable feedback on my writing. Once in a while I have asked someone who seems literate to read some of my things. One friend told me that my writing was too graphic for Christian consumption and I should consider writing secular fiction, and it would seem really clean by their standards. Nobody else ever gave me any comments. Finally, I realized that God wanted me to trust Him and do what He told me to do. I was still trying to minimize the likelihood of looking foolish by trying to get some sort of validation beforehand. I still really wish I knew if my writing was good. Sometimes I think it’s pretty good, and sometimes I think it’s pretty bad. But today, Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016, I’m crawling out of the hole and staying out. As the song says, “I’m no longer a slave to fear.”
I have a time-consuming and demanding job that I can’t quit at this point in time, so I don’t know how frequently I’ll post on this blog. My goal is once a week. I’m stepping out in faith and trusting God to do something for me. Please at least tell me what the next step is, Sir. But no matter what happens with my writing or this blog, I’m no longer hiding.