By Liz Curtis Higgs
Being published is a blessing, but I think the writing process itself is the real reward. The discoveries unearthed while doing research, the time spent on character development, the crafting of the story, and the fine-tuning of each sentence–that’s what makes my heart sing. I bet that’s how it is for you as well, my friend.
Holding a finished book in our hands is wonderful, and receiving letters from readers can be encouraging. But unless we enjoy the work itself, done in solitude and often at strange hours, we’ll be hard-pressed to finish one novel, let alone a series.
Katherine Mansfield said, “Once one has thought out a story nothing remains but the labour.” So right. That’s why we need to love the labor, the actual work of writing.
What keeps me going year after year is the knowledge that God has already crafted every story I’ll ever write: “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD” (Psalm 139:4). Our job is to listen for His gentle voice and follow His certain leading. I keep BibleGateway open while I work, so I can turn to Scripture for encouragement or direction with the click of a mouse. I also keep Anne Lamott’s reminder close at hand: “The right words, the true words, are already inside you.”
I pray and plot extensively before I begin, and stick to that plan fairly closely at first. Then the characters start living and breathing and going about their own messy lives, and I start following them instead of sticking with the original outline. Rather than leading me astray, they invariably take me to the heart of their real issues and therefore to the heart of the novel. Again, that’s God’s wise direction, keeping the story on track.
When the characters don’t ring true, when I don’t taste their tears and feel their sorrow, when my heart doesn’t leap with joy in tandem with theirs, then something is clearly amiss. I groan, pray, and start the scene over, reminding myself that no writing is wasted. Tossed out, maybe, but still a valuable and necessary part of the journey.
If we want our readers to grow spiritually, we have to be willing to go first. One of the joys of writing fiction is having the Lord teach us an important truth when we least expect it. While we’re busy spinning a tale about a frightened woman giving birth to her first child or a young father facing the loss of his job, God is busy teaching us about the timelessness of His Truth and the complex workings of the human heart. My appreciation for my own family has grown while wrestling with dysfunctional families on the page. And my gratitude for the faithfulness of friends has deepened after struggling with characters who are lonely or unloved.
God has placed inside each of us stories we alone can tell. Our labor of love is to sit down at our computers, pray without ceasing, and dive in, heeding the advice of Ray Bradbury: “You fail only if you stop writing.”
Liz Curtis Higgs is the author of 35 books with 4.6 million copies in print, including her nonfiction bestsellers, Bad Girls of the Bible and The Women of Christmas, her award-winning children’s Parable Treasury, and her Scottish historical novel, Mine Is the Night, a New York Times bestseller. Visit Liz at www.LizCurtisHiggs.com or www.MyScottishHeart.com