The Two Best Writing Tools—
Pain and Passion
I’ve written over seventy books, but the ones that have been the most successful have been the ones born of personal passion. I don’t mean a passion like strawberries or Diet Coke—though I am passionate about those. I mean something that cuts me deeply or makes me livid or comes from some emotional roller coaster I couldn’t control. Sometimes the passion comes from something I’ve seen happen to others, and my ire has flown up like a flock of angry birds, and it keeps me awake at night. Sometimes it comes from my own barely-healed wounds.
Bruce Springsteen once said, “I’ve always believed the greatest rock and roll musicians are desperate men. You’ve got to have something bothering you all the time.” I think that applies to writers of all kinds. Great writers are often desperate. They’re desperate to right some wrong, desperate to illuminate injustice, desperate to understand why hurtful people hurt, desperate to rewrite chapters of their own lives so they can analyze them from some distance. Depression seems to be a common trait among songwriters and novelists, and that may be what leads them into those vocations. I’m convinced we feel things more keenly than most people do, and we have no choice but to write those feelings down, couched in some story that gives them context and makes them palatable for others to read ... and easier for us to dissect. Maybe God allows us to have more trouble in our lives, not because we’re less favored, but because we are the troubadours and storytellers who will make people feel validated and less alone. Maybe people need to hear what we’ve learned.
Of course there are exceptions. I sold my first book at the age of twenty-five, when I hadn’t yet accumulated that many scars. I met with some success before I’d ever experienced the devastation of divorce, before I’d dealt with the self-destruction of a beloved family member on drugs, before I’d known much about death or disease, betrayal or heartbreak. It can be done, and it can be done well. I don’t mean to say that all writers are depressed or overly sensitive. Some of them are well adjusted optimists whose talent doesn’t depend on emotional trauma. I don’t want to paint us all as hyper-sensitive and melancholy. But I believe many of us are.
When wounds are inflicted, we often think we have to shut down, be quiet, back away. Maybe that’s when we should do just the opposite. Maybe that’s when our best work will come. Maybe that’s when we’ll write our masterpiece.
I remember the morning of September 11, 2001, when my writer friends and I were emailing each other frantically, shocked at what had just happened. We all wanted to shut off our computers and sit in a dark room watching the TV images of the towers falling over and over. But I had a strong gut feeling that we needed to do just the opposite. People needed us now more than ever. As Christian writers, we needed to feel the depth of that tragedy, then turn it into something that could bring comfort to our readers or express what they wished they could say. We needed to find where God was working and remind people that He was still there. We needed to turn that passion into something that mattered. We were here, gifted with language and story and perspective and hair-trigger sensitivity, for a very specific reason.
Maybe that’s the purpose in all of our wounds. Stephen King said, “A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.”
Terri Blackstock is a New York Times best-seller, with over seven million copies sold worldwide. She is the winner of two Carol Awards, a Christian Retailers Choice Award, and a Romantic Times Book Reviews Career Achievement Award, among others. Her most recent suspense novel is If I Run, about a young female fugitive whose being accused of a heinous murder. Other books include Truth Stained Lies (the Moonlighters Series), Intervention (the Intervention Series), and Last Light (the Restoration Series). See the complete list of Terri’s books at http://www.terriblackstock.com/books. Join her at Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/tblackstock) and Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/TerriBlackstock).