J. Grace Pennington

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People Who Cry


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.

27 Responses to People Who Cry

  1. Zoe says:

    *sniffles and cries*

    The first part made me think so much of TMB.

    I want to be that kind of writer too. No matter how hard it is.

  2. Zoe says:

    By the way, Grace. You have such a way with words. 🙂 You make it all so…beautiful and poignant.

  3. Jeremiah says:

    *decides it must be a good thing he has been crying more lately after all* I have a lotta trouble empathizing sometimes, while at other times it hurts me so much but I can’t help it. But those times are only times that the expressed emotions are something like my own. Something I know /how/ to empathize with. 😛 At this point I don’t know what to say to a friend in trouble…even though their sadness causes turmoil in my own heart. And I can see how this all affects my writing.
    But maybe, just maybe, my emotions are starting to catch me again after quite a few years of me evading and stamping them out as much as I could. Maybe, in part, because of my writing.
    Interestingly, I found myself thinking about how scary my next story might be, this reminded me that might be a good thing.
    Great post, Grace. 😀

    • Grace says:

      *smiles* I think that is a good thing, Jeremiah. 🙂 Sometimes it’s easier to get the feelings out in writing than in talking, for me, anyway. I’m glad you liked the post. 🙂

  4. 😀 The other day I was talking about this topic with a friend. We were discussing how much better writing is when an author or songwriter has put part of themselves into their writing. I’ve always called that feeling of putting yourself into writing a “heartsong”. 🙂

    Thank you for sharing, Ani.

    (BTW, I really like that picture.)


  5. Andrew says:

    Wow….this is my favorite post, Grace. It’s just… *shakes head* You got it. 🙂


  6. Elizabeth Kirkwood says:

    Mm. More than one “ouch” in there for me (In a good way)…

    * smiles * You got it…

  7. Very thought-provoking, Grace.

  8. mindari says:

    On the other hand…sometimes it’s the things we feel the most strongly, that need to be kept between us and God for at least a while. 🙂 It’s like in King Arthur when the one knight had found the Holy Grail…and everyone wanted to know about it, but all he would say was, “Ask me not…I saw it,” and there were tears in his eyes.

    • Grace says:

      *smiles* That may be. I suppose each person knows for themselves — whether such a reticence is prompted by fear or true discernment. 🙂 Thank you for commenting, mindari!

  9. Zoe says:

    *comes back to say something more* I’ve been thinking about this more, and you just may have dramatically changed/deepend the plot of the third book of my trilogy….

  10. Annie Hawthorne says:

    Thank you so much for writing this, Grace! I needed it. 🙂

  11. This is so very true, Gracie. 🙂 Thanks for pouring your heart into this post for us; I’m sure we all greatly appreciate it.

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  15. Hope Pennington says:

    This is amazingly true Grace… and beautiful… You put into words what it’s difficult enough to get through my mind… Thank you… This is a blessing. 🙂

    • Grace says:

      I’m so glad you liked it, Hope. This post just came to me, it was one of the ones I didn’t really come up with myself. 🙂