Learning Together

Happy November!

It’s difficult to believe there are only two months left in 2020. In some ways this year has seemed to drag on for far longer than others, and yet, it still doesn’t feel like it should be November already.

For all the writers out there, it’s also the start of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). In celebration, I started writing at midnight (taking advantage of the extra hour!) with intense instrumental music playing and pages of notes, outlines, and character sheets sprawled around my laptop. I’m happy to report a wordcount of 2,079 so far!

Last week I wrote about my struggles with perfectionism, and what I’m learning to help me push past it. 1 One of the biggest things I’ve found helpful when I don’t feel like writing…is to write anyway!

I’ve found that if I can crank out a story quickly enough to become engaged in the plot, continuing to write isn’t nearly so hard. If I can become attached to the characters and sucked into the story world, it’s usually too hard to resist finishing the book.

Though it’s not a good fit for everyone, that’s one of the reasons NaNo works well for me. Editing later is an entirely new challenge, but churning out the rough draft as fast as possible makes it much likelier that I’ll stick with the story to get that far.

At least, that’s how it works for me now. It’s taken me a long time to even want to write anything to share with others. And especially not to expect anyone to want to read it. The thought of it helping, or inspiring, or entertaining others has been ridiculous.

“What do I have to offer?” I figured. Though I wrote numerous other things before, I finished my first novel days after my twelfth birthday. And what could a twelve-year-old know about…well, anything really?

Every year my inner perfectinist/critic has told me the same thing: “You’re only twelve…fourteen…eighteen…How could your writing actually help anyone? How can you think it’s worth reading?”

Personally, I read books – even fiction – to learn. To learn about people, their emotions, their dreams. To learn about exciting worlds and fascinating cultures. To learn about morals, themes, and how beliefs stand up under intense pressure.

This summer, I had the privilege of attending a virtual writing workshop. 2 Among countless other blessings that arose from attending, I was able to spend some time talking with Allen Arnold, an esteemed author, teacher, and former Fiction Publisher at Thomas Nelson publishing. 3 Mr. Arnold has some wonderful material about creativity, and passionately believes in the creative process being God’s invitation to create with Him. Arnold’s novel and allegory, ‘The Story of With’, is an excellent read about this.

During my appointment with Mr. Arnold, I was encouraged to ask him questions, and I took the encouragement to heart. One of the things I asked him was whether I should write about topics I haven’t ‘mastered’ yet.

Should I raise questions I haven’t learned to the answer to? Is it wise to explore themes I haven’t personally learned how to handle? What if my portrayal of them, or attempt at answering those questions within my story, with my characters, plots, and worlds, leads someone astray?

Mr. Arnold’s answers have stuck with me. He said that I don’t have to worry about ‘getting everything right’ or ‘having all the answers’. With fiction (as opposed to non-fiction, where readers are expecting to learn from the author), I don’t need to know the exact steps to take in the situations I write about.

When I write stories, I’m inviting readers to enter into those journeys. I’m inviting people to learn with my characters. With me. People can relate to the characters, get involved in the plots, and – as long as a theme is explored honestly – be offered the chance to see a belief tested and developed.

As humans, we aren’t looking to be told what to believe. We’re looking for something to believe in.

I hadn’t realized it before talking with Mr. Arnold, but all of that is certainly true for me. When I read books, I’m sub-consciously searching for the meaning those stories can offer. I don’t expect characters to make the right choices all of the time, and in fact, if they do, it quickly alienates me. They just don’t seem real. I can’t relate to them, and their stories don’t move me.

I want stories to connect with me on an emotional level, and I want to learn. Maybe it’s learning what I can do to enhance my life, and what I should believe in. Maybe it’s learning what not to do, or what not to believe. Everything has the potential to teach me something about life, and as long as I take the time to investigate it and test its truth, I can learn a lot.

So now, though I’m still working on it, so much of the pressure I’d imposed on myself is gone. I don’t have to be perfect or all-knowing (and that’s good because it’s impossible!). I don’t have to know all the answers or be certain which path to take. I’m not writing to teach.

I’m writing to extend invitations. Invitations to join me and my characters on a journey. Invitations to explore worlds and themes and beliefs. Invitations to learn with me, not from me.

I love writing this way. It brings me so much joy and fulfillment. Each of my stories is crafted with the expectation that others will be joining me on a quest of adventure. Of learning, exploration, and excitement. Despite, and even because of, the trials, struggles, and obstacles.

Writing has become so much more than words on a page. It’s become a journey – and one I’m thrilled to take. I don’t expect I’ll ever reach the end of it.

Thank you for joining my journey. I hope it encourages you on yours.

Let us discern for ourselves what is right;
let us learn together what is good.
(Job 34:4 NIV)

1. My blog post, What I’m Learning About Perfectionism.

2. The workshop I attended is the OYAN Summer Workshop. It’s usually in-person in Olathe, Kansas, but was turned virtual this year (and still a wonderful experience).

3. Allen Arnold is currently the executive producer of content for Ransomed Heart Ministries, with John Eldrege. Their website can be found here.

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