LCH: Loving the Labor
Those of us who write fiction have not taken the easy path. W. B. Yeats called writing, “The fascination of what’s difficult.” But then, we didn’t choose to write fiction, we were called to write fiction. For most of us, telling stories is cellular; it was there when we were “made in the secret place,” when we were “woven together in the depths of the earth” (Psalm 139:15). We do not decide to become storytellers one bright, sunny afternoon; storytelling was part of our being from the very beginning.
For me, the actual writing process itself is the reward. The intense 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. Holding a finished book in our hands is wonderful, and receiving letters from readers can be very encouraging. But unless we enjoy the work itself, done in the solitude of our writing studios, we’ll be hard-pressed to finish one novel, let alone a series. As Katherine Mansfield said, “Once one has thought out a story nothing remains but the labour.” We gotta love the labor, the actual work of writing.
I remind myself that God has already written 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 the Spirit’s leading through the process. I keep QuickVerse open in Windows so I can go to the Bible for encouragement or direction with the click of a mouse. If, as I’m writing, the characters don’t sound authentic to me, if I can’t hear them breathing, if I don’t taste their tears and feel their sorrow, then something is not right, and I start the scene over.
The hardest thing is throwing out those hard-earned sentences and paragraphs. I move them to a file called Save This, simply so I won’t feel the time and effort were wasted. Those words are still on my computer; they’re just not in my story. Every now and then I’ll realize that some piece of dialogue or turn of phrase that didn’t work in Chapter 5 is a perfect fit for Chapter 25. But most of those words never see the light of day. For the 135,000-word novel I just finished writing (Grace in Thine Eyes), there are 12,000 words of unused material sitting in Save This. I edited those words for the sake of the novel, but kept them for my sake. Henry Miller is right: “Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.”
God has placed in our hearts very particular stories that we alone can tell. Our labor of love is to sit down at our computers, take a deep breath, and write.
Liz Curtis Higgs, author of Thorn in My Heart