It is not a coincidence that some of the greatest words ever written were chiseled. While on a mountaintop. Alone. Of course, Moses had some assistance. But if he’d stayed at home with the missus and the incessant bleating of his tribesmen, it’s doubtful that the Ten Commandments would have ever been penned.
For most writers, our best work is done away from others. We bring our laptop to the mountaintop, for it’s there that, on occasion, the heavens open. Seldom do the muses compete with the TV or iPod. “Writing is a solitary occupation,” said Jessamyn West. “Family, friends, and society are the natural enemies of the writer. He must be alone, uninterrupted, and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking.” Of course, convincing our "friends" and "family" that they are our "natural enemy" could get a bit sticky.
But while we create in isolation, we advance in community. Good writing communicates, which is the least solitary of endeavors. To communicate is to commune, to interact with other intellects. Likewise, a writer has not really succeeded until she has readers, someone who will “commune” with her material. Without the eyes and ears of others, our work is incomplete.
These two sides of writing—the “alone-ness” and the “together-ness”—are equally important, and I think, becoming a good writer means cultivating both halves. Even Lewis and Tolkien, now luminaries in the literary pantheon, yoked themselves to the Inklings. Who's to say what Narnia would have looked like had not the maker of Middle Earth cast a keen eye on the beloved tale. Could Aslan have acquired some genteel feature from someone other than Clive? Yes, we need a quiet place to develop our skills and sift ideas, but we also need Inklings, people who will read what we have written, encourage, correct, affirm, and ultimately propel us back to our quarters with renewed vision and vigor.
Donald Joy is Professor of Human Development at Asbury Theological Seminary. He's written numerous books on human relationships. The first chapter of his book Bonding is entitled, "Who is Holding Your Trampoline?" The basic concept is this: If you were trapped on the third floor of a burning building and only your closest companions—your most intimate, authentic relationships—could gather below to catch you, who would be there with the safety net? How many proven, reliable, unflinchingly honest friends do you have? Who's holding your trampoline? Joy suggests that the “healthy” individual should have at least twenty such people in this healing, supportive circle.
I wonder that writers have a unique need for “trampoline holders”—a band of people who will understand our quirks and passions, read our material and bring insight, get our creative juices flowing, lift us during times of depression and deflate us when our pride swells. And, maybe most of all, simply pray for us.
The day after I arrived home from Texas, still buzzing from last year's ACFW conference, I received a call from a very good friend whom I shall call V. Her story is a heartbreaking one, filled with tragedy and loss. But for the last 18 years, V has been "called" to intercede for me. I didn't solicit her prayers or swing a deal, make pacts or promises. Yet God prompted something in her, which I greatly covet. V is one of my intercessors; she has followed the arc of my spiritual life and graced me with her prayers. Her phone call was more than coincidence.
At the aforementioned conference, I attended Mary DeMuth’s terrific workshop entitled Inside Out Fiction. In it, Mary mentioned the need for intercessors in a writer's life. She currently has 48 people committed to praying for her writing ministry and encourages Christian authors to nurture their own intercessory circle. I have to admit, until then I hadn’t spent much time recruiting trampoline holders. In fact, I found myself wrestling with the rationale.
It seems odd that a "storyteller" needs so much prayer support, doesn’t it? I mean, fiction is make-believe; the spinning of yarns is anything but seriously spiritual, right? Now if I was writing about theology, apologetics or the mafia, I would need prayer. But the author of fiction hardly seems in need of such formidable backing. Sadly, many see the novelist as nothing more than a glorified jester, employed only for diversion, laughs or philosophical musing. No wonder the concept of prayer warrior seems incongruous with fiction writer.
The Bible does not maintain such distinctions. In fact, some of the most powerful stories in Scripture are fictional. The Good Samaritan. The Rich Man and Lazarus. The Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Unmerciful Servant and the Wedding Banquet. Jesus was a storyteller, and His tales were both entertaining and hauntingly relevant. He affirmed the unique power of story, the force of simple narrative, and the uncanny ability of common characters to wheedle themselves into our psyche, to spirit us away or stop us in our tracks. Maybe the fiction writer wields more possibility than, at first glance, we afford her.
As such, the most vital tool of the Christian novelist may not be the dictionary, thesaurus, or plot planner, but the intercessor. This is not to suggest we should neglect craft in favor of prayer, but that we balance both. No warrior is beyond needing a good blacksmith. In like manner, the stories that cut the deepest are often those that have whetted longest on the grindstone of prayer. Perhaps the writing life with its peculiar need for isolation, its roller coaster of emotion, its intangible spiritual drain, demands much more than just good grammar and a novel idea. As much as we want readers, we may need pray-ers and, just maybe, we can't have one without the other.
So the next time you find yourself stuck in rewrites or barraged by self-doubt, creatively dry or administratively overwhelmed, frozen at a career crossroad or meandering toward a dead end; when you’re sitting on the mountaintop waiting for lightning to strike or standing on the ledge of a burning building preparing to jump, I’ve got one question: Who's holding your trampoline?