By Anne Mateer
Do you desire to populate your stories with people that leap off the page, characters that “live” in readers’ imaginations? I sure do. But that kind of writing usually doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It requires engagement. In life. With people.
I’m in that “empty nest” season. I thought it would be great with no kids in the house to interrupt my writing. No school events to cut into my days. No daily helping teens to navigate the complexities of life and relationships to sap my energy. But a few months in I suddenly found my writing lacking life. What was wrong with me? Was I depressed over their leaving? I didn’t think so. I loved launching my children into the world, watching them grow and mature. I loved more time with my husband, harkening back to those early married years when it was just the two of us.
As I pondered this issue, I remembered You’ve Got Mail, one of my favorite movies. There is a scene toward the end where Kathleen Kelley (Meg Ryan’s character) contemplates the meaning of her life now that her bookstore has closed its doors. She says (or writes, actually) to Joe Fox (Tom Hanks’s character):
“So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book when shouldn’t it be the other way around?”
As I thought about that question, I realized that everything I’ve written has been in response to people I know, to situations I’ve lived through or have helped or watched others navigate. My fiction stems from a desire to make sense of the things that confront us in this world. Because of this, embracing my cleared schedule as more time to create actually did more harm than good, for writing is the way I work through feelings and understand people. It’s the way I explore and reveal both my heart and God’s truth. If I insulate my writing from life, there is little to make sense of, few people to respond to. The “why” behind my stories dries up like a lake in a drought.
Can you relate to my place of disengagement? Are you insulated by small children underfoot or an empty nest? Have you extracted yourself from all your relationships in order to write and suddenly find your words don’t have the same zing as they used to? As Christians, our writing is our work for the Lord, but the Lord’s work is all about people. My encouragement to myself and to you is not to neglect life for the sake of writing. Instead, look on your relationships and activities as the Lord’s way of filling your well of creativity, as His gift of truth to speak and people to love through your words on the page.
Anne Mateer loves exploring history and spiritual truth through fiction. She is the author of four historical novels, including 2013 Carol Award finalist At Every Turn. Anne and her husband live in Texas and are the proud parents of three young adults. Find out more about Anne at www.annemateer.com or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.
This is a very powerful post, Anne. I find when my life is rich in the Lord’s presence everything else works its way out. My time with my children and husband becomes more intentional. My awareness of my environment and activities is heightened. I notice people and things I usually take for granted. All of that flows back into my writing and sometimes the reverse happens.
At the moment I have a character whose backstory has him questioning whether God is just. As a doctor, he finds himself in a constant battle with death and those who die always seem to be the ones who could have done so much with more time. I found myself crying out in prayer, ‘How are you going to show him that what he really wants is You to show Yourself merciful?’
And then in answer, I began to see God’s mercy in all the difficult situation in my life and in the lives of those around me. It’s as if God put rose colored glasses on me to give me special vision for it, and I know He is going to do the same through every difficult situtation of this book until the character cannot doubt the truth and can draw near to the Lord again.
Wonderful encouragement, Anne! I agree with you wholeheartedly. Our real life and our relationships fuel our fictional life and our characters.
Anne, this post resonated with me. I find that line from “You’ve Got Mail” coming back to my memory often when I see I’m spending more time with my characters crafting fiction than with my family experiencing reality. Thanks for this challenge and encouragement!