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.
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.
Scratched that into my conference notebook as well 🙂 Definitely a memorable talk.
Read this while driving to a retreat, desperately wishing (once again) that God had made me a speaker who makes women laugh instead of one who makes them cry. Thank you for the powerful reminder to speak/write what I know!
Your words have and continue to inspire me, encourage me, entertain me, sadden me, and always leave me wanting more words from you.
Praise God for your words.
i have been asking my own version of this question. I get the answer. Can't say I put it quite like this. I get it. I have been writing just not publicly on my blog since before Christmas. I know I will again. I am not sure when but this gives me hope.
Thank you....for listening and obeying God....and writing what the voice in your head tells you to.
Tricia - You are amazing and I thank God that He has gifted you with the gift of words. I just finished reading your first book, And Life Come Back, and while I've never lost a spouse, I can relate to much of what you shared. My sister died suddenly in a car accident nine months ago and reading about or seeing others journey through this valley ahead of me has been so encouraging. Thank you for sharing your story and continuing to do so on this blog.
I do not know you
You don't know me
My only remaining brother died suddenly 9 1/2 years ago.
I am so sorry about the loss of your sister.
The loss of a sibling as an adult is a profound loss.
Today I pray God will comfort your heart.