Thursday, December 08, 2005

PH: Confessions of a Reformed Hack

I hate being misunderstood, but as I dig deeper into knowing God’s deeper truths, I have also come to realize that sometimes in following the Way, people will misunderstand us. Jesus was misinterpreted all of the time. So when I say that I would like to confess that I was once a hack writer, that God has led me a different direction than my earliest aspirations to follow formula, I realize that some will misunderstand me. I’m okay with that.

I received a letter from a reader a few months back who I will call Jill. The letter is thirteen pages long. She is pouring out her heart, sort of to me, but really more like one of those drink offerings to God, little bits of Jill spilling out all over those thirteen pages. She is in the enviable position of going through a heart transformation. It would appear at the outset that this has come about through reading one of my books, but if you will allow me further explanation, there is a deeper work going on that has nothing to do with me or my pen. It is a story about God and how he works in us and through us and how he intersects all of our lives to bring about the furtherance of his work here on earth.

Jill’s story started some time ago out on the Outer Banks. My story began with a surrender of my writing, also many years ago. How God tied the two together, and how he continues to tie the writer to the reader has a lot to do with time. I have a high respect for his creation of time on earth for our benefit as well as for the mystery of the unseen purpose.

I learned a lot about plotting when writing my first five or so books. I’m grateful I learned to plot first. But I eventually faced some dissatisfaction regarding the development of my stories. It was as though I had gotten to the end of the formulas and stood at a writer’s abyss thinking, “Are there no more stories to tell then but these?” The desire to drop formula in pursuit of a more stylistic approach to my writing was setting me afire. However, it seemed altruistic. I prayed, fearing that I might be following after a selfish pursuit.

I think I lived under the misconception that if I sought a higher literary goal or the pursuit of deeper more meaningful writing that I was somehow trying to be a high-brow writer, or that I would be perceived by some as trying to write over the heads of the readers. If you knew the neighborhood I grew up in, you would know why that was completely laughable. But after publishing a handful of books following my earliest sort of paint-by-number philosophy, all that made sense was that deeper more thoughtful and reflective writing would be more satisfying to me. What seemed clear was if the writer truly allows her writing to spring from life as it truly is in all of its reeling authenticity, then the story should not be over the reader’s head because it rises from the ink of humility and truth.

I could only hope that the reader would find a greater satisfaction in those kinds of stories. No matter what the outcome, though, I was driven to try. So I plunged in and decided that I was turning a corner and would not look back. No more book-in-a-hurry stuff.

I cried a lot the first few days and I know that is a really sappy thing to admit. I had to experience the flushing of personal memories that occurs when the deeper craft is pursued. I went from stream-of-consciousness to personal mini-workshops I applied one paragraph at a time. I asked the character questions to see how she would respond. The writing became more personal. After the next book came out, many readers wrote asking how I could confess those things about my life. Truth be told it was fiction, yet somehow all completely true. Universal truths are strands connecting us together as humans.

So God started me on the path to Jill some time ago. In her thirteen-page letter, Jill says, “ I asked God to help me choose the perfect book ‘for such a time as this.’” And then she says, “I cannot get it off my mind.” Now this is huge! You see when I was writing by formula, I never had a reader mention that the story lingered in her mind for days and weeks after reading it. For the story to linger, it has to take on a life of its own in a manner that causes the reader to believe that after she closes the book, the character has a life that is continuing beyond the pages.

What is evident is that God was working his will in and through me to accomplish a deeper work as a writer so that the story would linger in a reader’s mind. And in that lingering state, God could whisper something to that reader that has nothing to do with me or my pen.

Patricia Hickman,


At 12:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Patricia,

Thanks for this post. I've never been able to write a book-in-a-hurry (great term), and sometimes get discouraged over this inability, when it seems like so many published writers can, and do it well. My mind doesn't work this way. Thank God it's working at all! *g*

At 6:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this journey. My writing journey is now moving to a "time" stage where I find more and more that the time is just not in the writing but in the time in prayer and personal correspondence that is spent with the "Jill's" who read our work. It's as though I'm going into their lives right along "with" the story, not just "in" the story, if you get the difference. Thanks again.


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