To Write, Live

Taking a break from the “Love Thy Readers” series this week while I think through the last installment . . . Stuart’s injunction to U.S. readers to get out and vote yesterday was timely for me, not because I voted […]
on Nov 3, 2010 · No comments

Taking a break from the “Love Thy Readers” series this week while I think through the last installment . . .

Stuart’s injunction to U.S. readers to get out and vote yesterday was timely for me, not because I voted (I am Canadian), but because it ties into the key thought of this post — which is that we, as writers and even as readers, must live if we want to write anything of value or derive real benefit from the things we read.

That probably sounds very obvious. But if you’re like me, withdrawal from the physical world of relationships, exercise, and interaction is a real temptation. I grew up in a world comprised largely of books; I dwelt in imagination. But it wasn’t until God reached me in the real world that I started to write anything worthwhile or even truly artistic, and it wasn’t until I deliberately engaged in relationships, exercise, and interaction with the world off the page that what was on the page began to benefit me in any real way.

God wrote a Book, and that Book has shaped my life and thousands of others, overturned cultures, shaped civilizations. But God also took on flesh much like mine and walked in the same world I walk in. He ate our food, loved our people, and soaked up our sun. And if we want to really live and to really make a difference, we need to engage just as fully.

So yes, go out and vote, go out and talk to someone, go out and run a mile. Live, then write. Live, then read. Soak up God’s glorious creation and fellowship with eternal souls,  because this story we live in is the most important of all.

E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.
  1. Nikole Hahn says:

    That is so true.

    As a fantasy writer, we can find all sorts of fodder for our stories by risking intimacy with the world (as Christians not being of the world, but part of it). There is so much to observe in other people.

    • “Risking intimacy” is a great way to put it. We understand that our characters have to take risks, have to push boundaries and grow and truly LIVE, or their stories won’t matter. Do we realize the same things about ourselves?

  2. Definitely true. How can we write about the lives of others if we ourselves have no lives?

    • No more than we can infuse our stories with the eternal if we never touch it ourselves. But I’m always amazed how much of a temptation it is to NOT live. To just stay in my room and write where it’s safer.

  3. Rachel, this is an important point to make. I think the life lessons we learn are the fodder for our stories. When I first started writing full time, I was amazed to find that writing was a way I could see God redeeming some of the things I had considered wasted failures. Those very things became the tools for me to create deeper characters and truer circumstances. Without life and its dailiness, without sin and failure and love and forgiveness and sacrifice and worry and suspicion and … well, all the things of relationships, what do we have to write about?

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Speculative Faith, Nikole Hahn. Nikole Hahn said: To Write, Live /cc @feedly […]

  5. Ken Rolph says:

    Live then write. That’s got it the right way around. But how to go about it? I think we need to develop a pattern or rhythm of life that switches between the two. When I was younger I read the works of Arnold Toynbee on civilisations. He proposed that advances came with a pattern of withdrawal and return of individuals. I managed to find a snippet online.

    “The regular social process through which a growing society advances from one stage in its growth to another is a compound movement in which a creative individual or minority first withdraws from the common life of the society, then works out, in seclusion, a solution for some problem with which the society as a whole is confronted, and finally re-enters into communion with the rest of the society in order to help it forward on its road by imparting to it the results of the creative work which the temporarily secluded individual or minority has accomplished during the interval between withdrawal and return.” (from “A Study of History”, 1954)

    Toynbee mentions a wide range of individuals who have done this, many through exile or illness, some deliberate. It’s important not to be always withdrawn. It’s best to know how to handle the withdrawal when it comes. I discovered this a couple of years back when the corporate world ejected me. I had always written short pieces in between everyday activities. Now I had a chance to write at length and without distraction. The first thing that happened was that I thought I had nothing to write about. Nothing was happening to me. Gradually I came to see that a period of withdrawal is not passive. You need to develop the skills of deeply working over the memories and experiences of your life. Mining or winnowing them for the useful stuff which you can weave into something new. At least that’s how I hope it works out.

    Then you get a grandkid and “involvement” starts up all over again. So much for sitting back, thinking and writing!

    • That is fascinating; thanks for sharing it. I especially like where you say “a period of withdrawal is not passive.” It’s a good challenge to me today.

      For Christians there’s a whole other dimension to withdrawal, because we can withdraw TO God rather than just AWAY from the world. Those periods of working through issues and stepping back from normal life can be times of interacting with what is eternal, renewing our minds and “washing our feet,” in a sense.

What do you think?