One of the toughest times in my life was when my father was dying of cancer. It also marked a breakthrough in my writing.
My father was never the kind of person to express himself, and I always felt at a loss when it came to communication with him. In those last few months, I struggled to somehow communicate what I was feeling to him. I asked for, and received, permission from him to write letters sharing what I was feeling about our relationship, knowing full well I would never hear his response. As all this was going on, I began thinking about incidents in my life that had happened between him and me, and how it had made me into who I was as a man. As part of that, I started writing stories about those incidents, then decided to submit them. And magazines started buying them.
I learned that events that marked a significant emotional experience in my life could help me write better. I didn’t have to write about the actual event, my father for example. But using that intense emotion to drive my story makes it a lot more powerful. I have a former student who had issues relating to her father, and her writing generally reflected that, even though none of her stories were about her father, per se. But learning how to plug into emotion that moves us helps us move our audience as well.
As a Christian writer, I’ve found a tangential version of that. One of my Christian author colleagues asked me one time if I ever saw my writing self as a sort of prophet, sharing messages from on high. No, I responded, but I did see my writing as a sort of devotional time. Often when I write, I am talking to myself. The characters I portray are sharing parts of myself, and the struggles they deal with are struggles that I often have. When I wrote about Harris Borden (in The Champion) and his self-doubt as a young pastor, I was writing in part about myself. When I wrote about Ziba (in the recent story of Jonathan entitled Chosen) and his jealousy of David, I identified with that jealousy. And when I write how God helps them overcome these challenges, I am reminding myself of these things.
One of my upcoming projects is one that fascinates me, even though I am not sure how popular it will be as far as sales are concerned. Chosen didn’t light up the sales chart, mainly because not many people are buying Bible stories these days. But I am fascinated with the story of Jacob, who later became Israel, son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham. He was destined to be the father of the 12 tribes of Israel, yet his only skill was that of deception. Time and time again through his life he succeeded by deceiving people, only to have to run away and save himself. And yet God kept reminding him that he wasn’t alone, and that he had a special future in store for him. I think there’s a very powerful message in this story, one that I want to explore, if not for my readers, than maybe just for myself. And maybe in the process of discovering Jacob’s success, I can find success in my own life.
What do you think? Does Jacob’s story bear pursuing?