Sometimes, even after we’re grown-up, we play pretend.
When we were little, we pretended we were princes and princesses, cowboys and Indians, we pretended to keep house, we pretended to go to war, we pretended to be astronauts, pretended to be grown-up in general.
When we’re grown-ups, we like to pretend other things. Sometimes we pretend we are okay. Sometimes we pretend we don’t care, sometimes we pretend we do care. Sometimes we pretend to believe things, sometimes we pretend that things aren’t our fault, even though we know they are.
Everyone pretends about something. Even if they don’t mean to.
Sometimes, as writers, we pretend that our writing has nothing to do with who we are. We pretend we can keep our writing in one box, and our hearts in another, and pull each off the shelf in its turn to be played with, never letting the two mix.
And when a piece of our heart does fall into the writing box, we’re too afraid to share it. We pretend we’re not afraid, we pretend it’s “just too personal,” but in truth, we are afraid. If people see this… us, in our writing… they might reject us. They might laugh at us, even. They might not value what they see, and how that would hurt.
So we go on playing pretend.
Such writers cannot be great masters of their craft. Such writers cannot touch hearts, affect lives, make such a mark on their readers that their stories will never be forgotten.
The truly great writer is the one is scared to death, but steps out in courage and dumps both boxes together into one giant pile and mixes them. They find the things they really care about, the things that hurt, the things that bring them joy, the things that make their hearts stir so passionately that it’s hard to even talk about, and they write about those things.
There’s a quote that says “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.”
Great writers are people who cry.
In order to write about something you care about, you have to care about something. Really care. A great writer doesn’t see a homeless man sitting alone on a park bench, go “Aww, poor guy,” and walk off and write about a cute little kitten.
A great writer sees a man with shattered hopes and dreams and a lifetime of broken innocence, living in a neverending spiral of hopelessness and denial, a man who either has tried and failed until he despairs, or more likely, a man who lacks the courage to step out of the whirlpool and right his life — a man who’s trapped himself. The writer puts themselves not only in the man’s shoes, but in his head, and lives for a moment in his life. Then, the great writer goes home, and writes about the cycle of hopelessness.
A great writer doesn’t go through the checkout aisle and see a tabloid picture of a beautiful woman divorced for the third time because she cheated on her husband and say, “Ugh, that’s disgusting,” and go off and write about a perfect family.
A great writer sees a woman with a heart, and a soul, and a mind of her own, a person who cries when she must lie in bed alone at night and have the time to think, a woman consumed by emptiness, who tries to fill it up with men and diets and glamor and scandal and drugs and anything else she can find, a woman desperately searching for something to fill her, but always coming back empty, a woman whose heart is breaking with the pain of life, and who tries to fix it with the glitter-glue of shallow pleasures. The writer feels a longing to help the woman, to take her hand and look into her eyes, to impart some of the hope that exists just outside, in the love of Jesus. Then, the great writer goes home, and writes about emptiness, and struggling to fill it, and hope.
A great writer doesn’t see a friend crying and pat them on the back and say, “There there, God will take care of it,” then go off and write about swashbuckling adventures of stereotyped cardboard cutout characters.
A great writer holds the friend, and doesn’t let them go, and cries with them, and prays with them, and feels such a deep pain it splits their heart and they can hardly bear it. They feel more passionately and deeply for their friend than they ever have for themselves, and they are torn apart inside with longing to help, and yet they know that they can do nothing but hold, and love, and pray. Then, the great writer goes home and writes about real love, and pain, and trying to trust.
That is the kind of writer that touches hearts. That changes lives. One who isn’t afraid to care… and to cry… and to write about it. Who isn’t afraid to stop playing pretend, and bare themself and their heart, tears and all, to the world.
And that is the kind of writer that I want to be.