The Stories of Our Hearts

Once upon a time, there lived an author, who, more than anything, lived his life in dedication to the noble art of storytelling. One day, he began a new project. He was quite used to the routine, for he had begun many stories in his lifetime. But this time it was different. This time, he wanted to write something very special. And not just special – he wanted this story to be the pinnacle of his existence. But try as he might, the words wouldn’t come. He wrote chapter after chapter after chapter, and he threw them all away, because none of them told the story he was trying to tell. Now desperate, the author set out on a journey across the world, thinking that surely somewhere he’d find his story. Surely something in his travels would strike him. But no matter where he looked, his story was nowhere to be found. Giving up, he returned home and decided to try one last time to write. And to his great surprise, he found that his story had been inside him all along, in the one place he hadn’t searched: his heart.

Cheesy story? Maybe. Don’t judge; I wrote it in the car, cramped in the backseat with my earbuds not quite blocking out the radio, the sun glaring in my eyes, and the rest of my family trying to carry on a conversation over the noise of the unusually loud freeway. Such is the life of a writer. I love it.

The little story above is very much based on my own experiences. I have learned that usually, stories are already inside you, just waiting to come out. If I ever find myself trying too hard to write, I know I’m not listening to my heart. Not that writers don’t struggle – they do; it’s part of the job description, and it sometimes takes a lot of tries to get the story just right. But sometimes, I find that I’ve embarked on a metaphorical journey to try to “find” my story. I always return tired and ready to give up, but all along, I had the whole story within me already.

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But this isn’t the case all of the time. Sometimes, the story isn’t already in your heart. Sometimes, you do have to search for it. Last month, my family and I went on vacation, and usually I like to use vacations to try to get inspiration for writing. Usually I don’t find any. At the time, the story I was trying to write wasn’t exactly working out. So I set out on my vacation with a goal in mind: to find my story. I honestly didn’t think it would work, but I knew if I got that “searching” out of my system, I’d be all set to continue working on the story when I got back. Right?

Nope. Honestly, does writing ever work the way you want it to?

But something happened to me that week. I set out to find my story, and I found it. It wasn’t in my heart, like it usually is, and that’s why it wasn’t working in the first place. I was trying to write something that I wasn’t really passionate about. (This has happened to me more times than not, actually.) But something happened. I found my story in something outside of myself. That hasn’t happened to me in a long time, or ever, really.

I think God sometimes lets writers experience that for a reason. Maybe it’s not just writers; maybe it’s everyone. But in my case, I’ve always been able to tell – and quickly – if a story is going to work out or not. If you’re a writer, you’re probably very familiar with the promise of a new story idea, and the slight disappointment you face when you sit down to write and it doesn’t turn into anything. But you get over it quickly, because you have a thousand other ideas to turn to. Usually, if I can get several chapters into a story, I know there’s a 99.99% chance I’ll finish it.

But God has been doing something lately. (Isn’t He always?) For some reason, He really wanted me to write this story, because He kept bringing me back to it. I couldn’t get it out of my head, even when nothing was working. And, slowly but surely, He has been showing me something that’s bigger than myself. Usually my stories just come from my brain, and it’s all a bunch of fantasy-science-fiction-adventure type stuff. But this? For the first time in my life, I am writing something that doesn’t come entirely from my own heart.

I don’t know how to end this, because I honestly don’t know how it ends. I am still working on this story, this story that God put on my heart. I don’t know how it will turn out. But I can say this: Write stories from your heart. Don’t waste your time writing empty, meaningless stories. If you ask Him, God will show you the story He wants you to write.

If you’re a writer, is there a certain story you feel like you just HAVE to tell?

If you’re comfortable with it, tell me about a time God put something on your heart – it doesn’t have to be a story!

 

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How (not) to Be the Next C.S. Lewis

Hi everyone! Today, you get the privilege of listening to some of my totally random thoughts. My brain is fried, and this is the only blog topic that came to mind: other authors as role models.

When I first started taking writing seriously, I wanted to be the next Ted Dekker. That was probably because I was completely obsessed with his books back then, and he was the only author I read for an entire year and a half. I wanted to write those edge-of-your-seat-the-entire-way-through books. Books that were a picture of the Gospel.

And then I read Harry Potter. My vision changed. Now I was determined to be the next J.K. Rowling. What writer doesn’t want that? What writer doesn’t want to rock the world with a single book that ends up being pretty much the #1 bestselling series on the planet? And here we are, twenty years later, and she still has a huge following. That sounds awesome, doesn’t it?

And then I decided I could do better than that. I adjusted my vision a bit, and decided that I wanted to be the next Tolkien instead. I wanted to be the founder of a completely new genre (Tolkien is often considered the father of modern fantasy). I wanted to write books so memorable, that people would still be reading them eighty years from now. (Yes, The Hobbit was published eighty years ago.)

Then I changed my mind again. After reading The Screwtape Letters, I decided that I would be the next C.S. Lewis. I would write fiction so real that it’s almost inseparable from reality. I would write about the Christian faith within a fictional work.

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Most professionals will tell you not to try to “be the next [insert your favorite author here].” I have come to agree with them, for two main reasons. First, favorite authors change (as you can see from my list). And second, the best authors were themselves. The best authors weren’t trying to live up to the standards set by other authors. The best authors were defying the norms, sometimes going directly against current trends.

But if you asked me who my four absolute favorite authors were, I’d tell you the four listed above. Trying to imitate them has given me a deep liking for their books. Theirs are the books I will always go back to, no matter how old I get. And even though I no longer want to be any of them, my writing is still very much influenced by them. For example:

All of those authors taught me to love fantasy, and now it’s the main thing I write. Beyond that, there is one thing all these authors have in common, and that is their stories are pictures of the Gospel. I will always write stories like that. I can’t not weave the Gospel into my fiction. It’s like an instinct; I couldn’t get away from it even if I tried.

Ted Dekker taught me that *SPOILER ALERT* the author is actually allowed to kill the main character. *END OF SPOILER* My overall writing style is also a bit like Ted Dekker’s (at least I think so. If you think differently, let me know. 🙂 )

Like J.K. Rowling, my books feature super evil villains, complex plots, and shocking endings. I’ve also started sorting all my characters into Hogwarts houses. It really helps early character development!

And like Tolkien, I write epic fantasy with quests that span the entire world and WAAAAAAY too many characters.

And finally, like C.S. Lewis, I have recently started writing stories that leak into reality a bit too much for my comfort – intentionally. (If you haven’t, you should read The Screwtape Letters. It scared me.)

As you can see, the authors we love do shape our writing. And why wouldn’t it? If you like to read a certain type of book, you’d probably write similar books, right? If you’re a writer, I highly encourage you to study your favorite authors. Study their books. Stalk them on Facebook. Find other people who love their books as much as you do, and talk about them. (Unless the author in question is Ted Dekker. He has no fandom, which makes me sad, but if you’re looking for a fellow fan, you can talk to me. It gets lonely over here with a big empty green lake all to myself and no one to dive in with me. And you’ll only understand that last sentence if you’ve read his books.)

So yes, learn from your favorite authors. But don’t try to BE them. It won’t get you anywhere, because you will never be able to. You will only get discouraged, because every writer has their own unique set of gifts. You can learn new skills and implement them into your own writing, but you will never actually be that author. And that’s the important thing to remember.

Who is your favorite author?

Which authors do you look up to as role models?