A writer’s conference is a the craziest mixed bag of personalities.  It’s like a store-bought bag of mixed Jelly Belly candies, but with a whole lot of heart. Jelly beans sugar candy snack in a jar isolated on white

There are left-brained planners who plot out their days and their books and their careers.  They know where they are in the process and what to do next.  They are on time for everything, plan their conference electives on their phones, and they’ve maximized their appointments with agents and editors for pitches and critiques.

There are right-brained pantsers, named because we fly by the seat of our pants.  We write in streams of consciousness and wait with delight to see what will show up next on the page.  We meet again and again at the registration counter, asking for a new room key because we’ve lost the others.  We’re late for sessions and we’ve lost our schedules, but we’re forever engaged in a happenstance conversation born of where we weren’t planning to be.

There are quilters and knitters, Vacation Bible School teachers, trekkies, conspiracy theorists, millennials and retirees, warriors and survivors of every single kind.  There are surprise personalities and broken stereotypes.  There is wisdom in the nooks and crannies, and there are networks born in the cafeteria.  Books are being born all around, and you can practically smell the ideas percolating.  The only common thing we share for sure is the love for the words on the page.

My new friend Nathan took the stage on Wednesday night, and he talked about the voices in his head.  Not a cliched metaphor for the muse, but the actual voices that scream at him from within.  Call it mental illness, schizophrenia, or tragic if you want.  I call it heroic.  He talked about his honest writing and storytelling about living inside the mind of a dozen voices.  He said, “Sometimes, if you want to call someone out of darkness, you have to go in after them.”

He talked about the empty answers we Christians dole out to people.  “‘Just give it to Jesus,’ they told me.  Great.  I’d love to.  But what am I supposed to do when he gives it back?  ‘He won’t do that,’ they told me.  Really?  That hasn’t been my experience.  He gives it back almost every day.”

Nathan chose to write about the trends of cutting and self harm, the psychological phenomenon that causes people to make small cuts into their arms or legs in an effort to control their emotional pain.  As he learned about it, wrote about it, and leaned into the culture, he encountered his own suicidal thoughts.  He said, “There’s a lot going on in my head, but suicide has never been one of them.  I asked God to please tell me why.  Why do I have to feel this?  Why do I have to carry all of this?”

You guys, if you had told me that the deepest nugget of wisdom and the gift worth the price of admission would have come through the dark fantasy author who claims Jack the Ripper is his personal hero, I may have withdrawn my registration from the event all together. 

But I would have missed out on the answer I’ve been waiting for through the last four years. 

He said, “God’s answer to me was, You have to live this because your readers do.  They need words and answers, and I need for you to write what you know.”

Of all the questions I’ve asked since Robb died, they’ve all been a version of the question Nathan asked as well. 

Why do I have to do this?  Why did you let this happen to me?  Why do I still carry this, struggle with this, cry over this, ache with a brokenness that spills into every crack of my heart?

And now I have an answer I can live with.   

You have to live this because your readers do.
They need words and answers,
and I need for you to write what you know.

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