Life is messy and painful. Full of conflict and discomfort. Broken and, at times, difficult to navigate.
But it’s also filled with family and friends and achievable dreams. It provides us with a purpose: living a good life.
Lately, I’ve seen more of the conflict of life than the joy. Some days, it’s hard to keep a hopeful perspective, even though I’m a Christian who would say I believe God is sovereign over all and my hope is not in the things of this world. It’s easy to say those things, and perhaps think we believe them, but harder to live on those beliefs. This season has been one of those times.
And for creative people, who tend to be introverts or solitary geniuses, a common way of coping with life’s struggles is to keep to ourselves more, hide away from the world, and completely devote ourselves to our work. I’m guilty of using at least two of those coping mechanisms.
But we can’t let ourselves do that.
Living life—I mean actively participating and making an effort—is needed as a creative person. Not only because we really can’t create our best work alone, but also because going through life, experiencing it with all its sparkles and muck and everything in between, makes us stronger writers.
When we undergo trials in our lives, the things we experience and learn often come out in our stories without a conscious effort. By writing stories centered on the hard stuff of life we’ve personally dealt with, we can pass on hope to our readers, even if it’s as simple as “you’re not alone in what you’re experiencing.” Even if things didn’t get better or the bad stuff didn’t go away for your character (or you), there’s still something to be said about learning someone else knows what it’s like to go through difficult situations. We find hope in realizing we’re not alone and we’re not the only one who doesn’t have a “perfect and polished” life.
It’s important to be honest about the reality of life—it’s not always as we want it to be—in our writing. I discovered this lesson through my novel Our Company of Fools. In January 2016, a few days after the beginning of the new year, I was sitting in the airport about to leave from a 6-day-long workshop with the One Year Adventure Novel (OYAN) community. It was my fourth OYAN event, and at the time I feared it would be my last. I had just said good-bye to my dearest OYAN friend, which made me feel even more sad. I felt prompted to write about my state at that time, framing it through the eyes of a fictional character. When I returned to Baylor that evening, I had a few quiet days before my roommates returned to plot and begin to write Our Company of Fools. In some ways, the book is autobiographical, based on events I experienced and friends I knew, though framed through a fictional lens. It was about OYAN, specifically my last summer workshop at the time (June 2015) mixed with the deeper conversations of the previous winter (Dec.-Jan. 2016). Winter Workshop that year especially showed me that vulnerability and leaning on friends was important, a lesson I would continue to develop throughout 2016 in various ways. That became the heart of my novel, the theme, though the setting of Summer Workshop felt more like home, a feeling I also wanted to convey. The first draft of Our Company of Fools was written within 19 days of its initial conception in the airport. I’ve never written a novel of that length (50K words for the first draft; it’s since gotten longer) in such a brief period of time.
Though over two and a half years have passed since its initial writing, I still think Our Company of Fools is my best work to date. Personally, I think what makes the book so meaningful to me is that it comes from my heart. It is me sharing my vulnerable self on the page, though the main character Leah Pool, the events that happen around her, and how she grows through the story. It’s all about the struggles of life and community and fighting our demons (both literally and metaphorically). Our Company of Fools is the book that prompted me to think differently about every story I write, digging deeper to touch on the truths and stuff of life rather than focusing on the glamour of the plot and fantasy world. Life experiences are crucial to writing a meaningful novel, no matter what the genre.
That’s why, as writers, we need to be willing to embrace life, even in the messiness. Even in the hard times. And of course in the happy times. Only by experiencing life for ourselves can we, in turn, write from the heart. Only by living life are we able to understand and convey that to readers, to tell them they’re not alone, and, maybe, grant them peace for their own journey. Life makes us stronger writers, because once we’ve lived through it, we can help others do the same—we can write truthfully, authentically, and honestly. We can write life as it is, not how we think it should be.