When I first began to write, I had no idea of the courage it required. I longed for an easy respite from the daily routine of caring for six preschoolers in my home day care. A creative outlet – a chance to scratch an itch that I couldn’t reach any other way. Something…different. It seemed safe to slip away into another world and take on another’s problems and dreams so different from my own.
But when I started educating myself through reading how-to books on writing, attending writing conferences and meeting with critique groups, I discovered that my favorite authors made it look effortless because they were good at what they did, and they wrote courageously about things in their lives that sometimes left them scarred. Eventually, I came upon this quote by sportswriter Red Smith which every writer comes to understand: “Writing is really quite simple; all you have to do is sit down at your typewriter and open a vein.”
I was working on a gold rush romance around that time and was convinced that Emmaline, my protagonist, was so far removed from my modern day issues that she couldn’t possibly reflect my struggles. I was wrong. The first editor who considered my manuscript asked me if the story was autobiographical. Seriously? Emmaline and I lived over 100 years apart.
Well, let’s see. Emmaline was a former pastor’s wife who was nursing a hurt, had lost her joy in ministry and just wanted to ‘go home.’ My husband and I were struggling and between churches at the time, and I was wandering in greyness. Yikes. Ouch. How’s that for transparency? In the end, I found that by helping Emmaline through her rough spots, I was able to find my own way ‘home.’
In subsequent books, I wrote about contemporary women and families in the midst of turmoil, careful not to betray any confidences or portray any close similarities to my family members or issues. No son, daughter or spouse wants to recognize themselves in mom’s book. We never lost a child to illness, never had one switched at birth, never underwent an abortion, but we did suffer miscarriages, looked cancer in the eye and struggled like any other family to mesh and blend and extend grace to one another while keeping our individuality in tact.
So why is courageous writing important? People need distraction. We desire shared human experiences. We long for truth. As readers we yearn to see courage in action. We identify with characters when they are real, fleshed out, imperfect in their drive toward perfection. Courageous writing helps the reader connect the dots in life and satisfies the writer’s itch. Does that mean every story needs to deal with weighty issues? Certainly not. But the characters must ring true and offer hope of redemption and reconciliation because that is what the Lord offers us, and it is what we need in a world where courage is sometimes lacking.
Many authors today are courageous writers. Will you share some of your favorites, and why?