I’m writing this post after having just returned from the theater for a late night showing of Zero Dark Thirty. It’s a film that has attracted a lot of attention for its portrayal of the events surrounding what is arguably the greatest manhunt of all time – the search for Osama Bin Laden. And while this blog post is not intended to be a film review, there was something in the film that captured my attention so much I felt compelled to include it in my post today.
In a word, it was…Pursuit.
The narrative of the film focuses, for the most part, on a young CIA analyst named Maya who has committed her life to one thing and one thing alone – finding Bin Laden. To say the pursuit of Osama is Maya’s job would be a dire understatement. In fact, Maya’s investigative resolve hardens so much through the film that it eventually becomes a personal obsession. Months drag on to years marked with frustrations, dead-ends and life-threatening assignments around the globe. But she never gives up. Maya is dedicated to this task. Somewhere along the line she has made a sacred promise with herself and she will never stop no matter what happens – or how long it takes.
One of the things that struck me the most about this film is that it was not the polished and glamorized manhunt film we’ve come to expect from hollywood. It’s a far cry from a The Fugitive, Bourne Identity or even an episode of 24. No, this movie was much more about the monotony of research and the thankless and lonely life of an investigator than it was the thrill of the raid and the fulfillment of a dream. And I guess that’s what connected with me most as a writer.
Good writers are tenacious. It’s a necessity of the job. It’s not sexy or glamorous. At times its downright boring. But once we get ahold of a story, we must see it through to its end – no matter what the cost. We are, like Maya, investigators into the speculative “what if’s” of the case. It matters little if we are writing a fantasy, romance, adventure or thriller, the rules of the world must still be determined, the background and motive of every key character must be noted and sometimes we must be willing to backtrack, retrace our steps and question our own perceptions about the plot we have already written. It is in the trenches of writing, the daily grind of small word counts, backward progress and seemingly incoherent ideas, that a book will be forged and a victory will eventually be won. We must be tenacious, or we are doomed to fail.
Having successfully published four novels in the past five years, I’m often approached by others who have a desire to write a book someday, and they ask me what it is they can do to get published. The answer is never quite as simple as they’d like. The truth of the matter is that “getting published” is a route that looks different for every author and requires as much divine intervention as it does skill. Some of the most skilled writers I know still have unfinished or unpublished manuscripts in their file drawers. Why? The reasons for this are as diverse as the stories themselves, but one thing is certain – if you give up you’ll never succeed.
So, for those of you struggling with your writing (and I still count myself among you), allow me to offer this suggestion – be tenacious this year. Make a promise to yourself that you WILL finish that manuscript. Stick with it, no matter how long it takes. If you truly are a writer you will finish what you start. There is no stopping half way. Writing a book is not a sprint, it is a marathon. It will take everything out of you and leave you battered and bruised from the fight. But if you are committed, if you’ve set your eyes on the prize, you will find a way to finish strong.
But before you start pounding away at that novel – a word of warning.
In the final moments of the film, after Maya has accomplished all that she has set out to do, she is asked a question as she boards a plane alone. It is a simple question really, one that she should have asked herself years ago but never allowed herself time to ask it. The question was this: “Where do you want to go?” The question stops her dead in her tracks. She’s spent her entire career seeking this one man, that now, when she finally finishes what she set out to do, she has no clue who she is anymore. She doesn’t know where to go from here or what to do with her life. She cannot answer that question and it is a tragedy. In many ways, her pursuit had only just begun.
It was this moment that reminded me that it’s not enough to simply have a dream to write. You must know WHY you are writing. What is it that you hope to accomplish with your life. You must make your life about something bigger than yourself – something that will last long after you finish your novel or capture Bin Laden.
Why do you write? What are you really pursuing?
The answer will likely be different for everyone, but for me the only answer that makes the most sense comes from Matt 6:33
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
I love this verse, because it always helps me to focus my mind on what matters most. If I’m not intentional about pursuing God’s kingdom first, I may one day find myself like Maya – with no life to “go back to” when it’s over.
So, what are you pursuing? Are you pursuing your own glory or are you pursuing the kingdom of God? If writing is your gift, why not write in pursuit something that matters today. By knowing why you write, you will be empowered to continue writing when the going gets tough.
NOTE: Due to the nature of the subject of the film, Zero Dark Thirty contains obscene language and graphic violence. This post is not intended to be an endorsement or recommendation of the film.