Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Called to tell a story?

This morning, I received a lovely letter from a reader of The Restorer and she asked some great questions. I enjoyed mulling the answers, and after writing to her, realized that these thoughts might bless others, as well.

She asked about what the journey has been like, and her core question was, "What would you tell another Christian young woman with a God-given story burning in her heart?"

As I looked back at the years while The Restorer "brewed" - before I began writing it, and the process that brought it to publication, I remembered how painful that time was. Debilitating health problems, burn-out and feelings of disillusionment after years in a ministry that drained everything from me, then years of seeking Him for new vocational direction with no answers.

I don't know if it's true for all writers (although many of my writer friends tell similar stories) but it seems a lot of stories are born in the crucible of affliction.

I've always been involved in the arts (music, theatre, dance, writing) and yet had several years of NO open doors in any form of expression. Desert days. God whispered to me to "write" many years before He guided me to what kind of writing to do. When He slowly nudged me toward writing a novel, and that door opened, it was like a race-horse when the gate goes up. Exhilarating. Frightening. Intense. Then as the book took shape and people were being blessed by it, He guided me to seek publication--even more frightening and challenging - and then four years of prayerful DAILY seeking for that open door (in the face of the statistics of how many manuscripts are submitted and how few are ever published).

On the practical side, I'd studied writing in grad school, written non-fiction for magazines, etc., and then went to writing conferences for four years to meet editors and agents and learn about the industry. But the faith journey was the REAL challenge. Being willing to invest the work and time knowing I was primarily writing for an audience of ONE. Trusting Him to glorify His name in spite of human measurements. Seeking to give my very best...seeking to hone my skills to better honor Him - yet also knowing that it will never fully convey all the wonder of who He is (our art is so limited compared to His awesomeness).

Honestly, that is STILL a daily struggle for me. To feel God's passion for a story (as you may have felt for the one He's placed in your heart) and to pour out sacrificially to help birth the story - and yet to release any "results" to Him. I treasure each letter from a reader that hints that He is using this story for His purposes.

So what would I tell a woman with a God-given story burning in her heart?

In each step.

I asked Him for a Christian writer's group (I knew I needed accountability, support, and feedback). It took years of prayer before I found one. After I'd joined the group, God released me to begin the novel - finally gave me clear direction. After I finished the first draft (about six months) I prayed about the next step. He led me to a writer's conference where I went with every ounce of teachability I had - to discover what publishers were looking for and if my writing had the skill needed to even be thinking of publication. He continued to provide direction for each next step. The most challenging years of my life.

I learned so much in those years of studying, working full-time at writing, and pursuing His will for my stories. I wrote, revised, and honed eight complete manuscripts (seven are now contracted with two different publishing houses), read books on writing, editing, and proposal-writing, and listened to what marketing teams, acquisition editors, agents, and others were saying about the kind of authors they sought to work with.

For all the practical resources that helped me, I have a page of "encouragement for writers" on my website with recommended books, conferences, etc.

But it's the faith journey that is the real challenge. Daily showing up - giving God my availability. When I teach writing, I mention two qualities that are vital: availability and authenticity. God's grace pours out of the broken places in our lives.

Are you called to tell a story for Him? I pray He will guide you even as He has been stirring the story to life in you. I KNOW He will comfort you on days of discouragement (because those will come) and send you wise counsel at the right moments as you watch for it.

I've talked about the crucible of affliction, but I want to also say that writing The Restorer was FUN! It was joyous to discover the themes of God's grace weaving through the characters and their adventures. It was exciting to show up each morning wondering where God would direct my thoughts and words that day.

I long for my stories to accomplish God's purpose - which might look different for each reader, but I hope include giving glimpses of His wonderfulness.
Have a blessed day!
Sharon Hinck ...
...stories for the hero in all of us

The Secret Life of Becky Miller (Bethany House, June, 2006)
Renovating Becky Miller (Bethany House, February, 2007)
The Restorer (NavPress, May 2007)
The Restorer's Son (NavPress, September 2007)


Pais Charos said...

Thank you for that post, Sharon, it was a blessing to see, as well as an encouragement.

I still struggle with surrendering my writing to God. For many many years I never even thought about praying about my writing. Then when the idea was presented to me I was like, "Huh?"

I almost have to remind myself, now, each time I sit down to write, that if I really want his words to speak and write through me, and I really want my writing to portray Him, then I need to pray.

Karenee said...

Thanks, Sharon.

Knowing I'm growing and learning doesn't always take care of the impatient feeling that comes with, "Wait."

I sometimes wonder when, "Just keep writing for now," will become, "Write this book and get it published." It's good to know that you have gone through the just-writing stage, too. Maybe it's ok to put words on a page or a blog--or, well, anywhere--and trust God to direct me further in His time.

Sharon Hinck said...

Pais and Karenee,
I used to get a little irritated at published writers who urged me to take joy in the PROCESS and not be in a rush to see "publication" as the goal. I thought, "they don't understand the BURNING I feel to get this story into more hands." Now I understand why they urged me to enjoy the journey and not focus on "destination" too much. There is precious life and breath and freedom in the things you are writing now - things you write for the exploration, for the joy, and with blind faith that they are worth writing (even if no agent, editor, or publishing house has stamped them with their approval yet). Keep writing! Keep playing. Keep exploring. (I'm coaching myself right now, too). :-)

Justin B. said...

Writing is such a challenge and it is great when you see that many published writers continue to have that struggle of giving it all to God when writing. The devotion factor for writing is something I struggle with, especially when at the point in my life where I still feel as though that may not be my direction in life. Even though I have that wonderful story bugging my thoughts, desiring to be put down on paper. Yet who knows all that could just be more of those mere daydream thoughts. Those thoughts that try to calm my stressful, worried mind. I totally understand those "desert days" Those days where you wonder whether God has any real purpose for you! Something you very well adressed in The Restorer! Your posts are always such a pleasure to read! Good luck on your next!
Justin B.

Barbara H. said...

I've been reading your blog for quite a while, though I don't think I have commented before today. I've enjoyed it very much and I thank you for sharing yourself and your journey in this way!

One of the things in this post that encouraged me was that God gave you the desire to write before He gave you a story to write. That is where I feel I am now. I have had the desire to write for some time and have had the joy of having a few articles published. I have a premise for a novel and a couple of the characters in mind, but no real place to take them yet. I've wondered some times if short article writing is really more what I am called to, because when I think about actually crafting a story, I'm almost overwhelmed. I'm one of the most indecisive people I know and have realized that telling a story involves a multitude of decisions!

One of the reasons I started a blog was for the exercise in writing (besides the major purpose of hoping to be used of the Lord), and I have found that my writing has improved just by writing more -- though I have also found more and more areas that need work. :-)

But thank you for the encouragement that if God does have a story for me to write, He will continue to guide in the process in His timing.

Sharon Hinck said...

Justin, I'm SO glad you saw themes in The Restorer about how God can use us even when things don't seem to make sense.

Barbara, you said, "I've found my writing has improved just by writing more." AMEN! It takes experimenting, trying things, writing vast amounts and then culling the few bits that really convey something in a beautiful or new way. Yet none of the effort is wasted! Whether you end up with blog posts, an article, or a novel, God can find ways to bless others through your work. :-)