Wednesday, November 9, 2016

On Writing Yourself into Your Characters

Hey there.

This is a post I started out nervous to write, because it meant I'd have to get a little honest, but writing is about getting a lot honest, so here's a good place to start.

Every character that I've felt I developed well has pieces of me in them.

Zayla deals with anxiety.

Cameron doubts his ability to care for those around him.

Alyssa cares what people think of her.

Keiko feels alone at times.

Macy struggles with her self worth.

Bellamy is self-centered.

Judah would rather listen than confide.

But what I've realized is that, by writing about my own flaws, I've touched on the very things that connect us all as humanity--as readers, as writers, and people.

Because, whether or not your flesh looks the same as mine does, we all struggle at times with something, and our struggles are connected.

I was thinking back on the writer's conference I had the chance to go to last year, and reminiscing about what was one of the boldest things I'd done as a writer. In front of most of the conference attendees, I decided to read my work.

I was originally going to read a poem I'd written that day, because it was safe. (and an entertaining analogy between a bad relationship and a fridge.)

But I listened to the heart the other writers had poured into their work, the rawness and yet the quality of what they'd written--and right there, minutes before my turn, I realized I needed to be brave.

There was a piece I wrote about my precious baby Macy, in which I quoted myself.
You see, Macy has anorexia.
I do not have anorexia.

But I knew what it felt like to be trapped in my head, in a cycle of thoughts. I knew what it felt like to be in bondage to fear, to attempt to control that with regulation.

And, even though I wasn't anorexic, I wrote my own thoughts into this character. I knew I hit on something, then. I knew I had written something that might just resonate with another person who had battled fear.

And I read that piece.

I didn't realize just how connected one person's pain could be to another's, but, after I stepped down, and the reading ended, a woman came up to me. Her piece had been about hospitalization--for anorexia.

And she looked at me with tears in her eyes, and she thanked me, and told me I was brave, and hugged me.

The next day, she came up to me and hugged me again, told me I was beautiful. She said she didn't know what my story was, but she said that I needed to keep writing.

She didn't know I wasn't anorexic. She didn't know. I didn't have the heart to tell her. And I felt that I didn't need to--because the words I'd written still came from my heart. And those words connected with her.

Looking back on this moment--something I come back to whenever I need the motivation to keep working on my craft--has taught me something.

We don't all have disorders. We don't all have stories that brings tears to the listener's eyes. But, man, we've all got struggles. Some of us have to fight harder than others in some areas, or even in general, but pain is part of living in this imperfect world. If we are willing to look at our struggles and see how those manifest in other people, maybe even in greater ways, we can begin to understand them.

Empathy and understanding can help. People facing huge battles are the same people that face little ones. They are human. And yes, their thoughts may look different than yours, but, if you're willing to understand--you might find you and they are more similar than you thought. You might find a place of compassion. because, no matter the battle--physical, mental, situational--we are all human, in need of grace, and desperate to be understood.

Basically, what I want to say is this:

I don't know what hurts you now. I don't know if you have a condition. I don't know if you have a backstory that brings tears. I can't say I do. But I know you have experiences that, if you're willing to look at them honestly, can bring hope to people you'd never expect it would. If you have found hope, you can share that hope with anyone. So write pieces of yourself into your characters. Let honesty bleed through. Don't assume everyone will be able to fight the same way--listen to their stories. But find places to connect with them, because those places exist.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

God is not In Love with You

That's right, I said it. God isn't in love with you. I've seen this phrase used over and over to comfort someone who's feeling worthless, or to assure someone that everything will be okay, or to encourage someone to come to the cross, because God is in love with them.

Heck no.

Now, don't burn me yet. I'm taking this thought a step further.

First of all, let me define what I believe to be the widely accepted definition of being "in love," just to make sure I'm not throwing anyone for a total loop. As it appears to me, at least, "In Love" is a state of mind--and often, body--that signifies a significant attraction towards another in a way that magnifies their goodness and downplays their faults. It is experienced by the person "in love," and is demonstrated by actions or commitments, or even an overall rose-colored view of a person.

I'm sorry, but that's just not how God sees us.

We are not his highschool sweetheart. He doesn't want to take us to prom, he doesn't want to scream to the world how perfectly wonderful we are, He doesn't want to embrace everything we are. He doesn't need us to be happy. God does not look at us and get super warm and fuzzy inside because we make Him feel good.

We sin. We fall short. We make God angry, because while He is up there loving us, we're running around with all the wickedness and sinfulness that He hates.

Wait!, you say. You just said God loved us! Make up your mind!

There's a big difference between this concept of a God that loves everything we are, that is infatuated with our beauty, that accepts our sin and rebellion, and a God that actually loves us.

See the difference: Love is action. Love is a choice to acknowledge faults and still choose someone. Love is a devotion to a person, Love is selfless. Love has open arms despite the risk of being hurt again. Love is experienced by the person on the receiving end, who is known in all their weakness and still given Grace.

God. Is. Love.

God sees the way we rebel against Him, our sinfulness, our nonchalant view of Him, and He pursues us, because He loves us.

He is Holy, and because He is holy, sin separates us from Him. As you might imagine, because of His love for us, he hates our sin. He wants us to repent, to be in fellowship with Him. Because He's not going to just embrace our sinfulness. He's going to open His arms and call His people to Him, but that also means calling them away from the sin He hates.

A God "in love" with us doesn't have to be Holy. He could just open up and adore us despite all our choices that show a lack of love for Him.

A God that "Loves" us is Holy, desires us to run to Him, sacrifices Himself to give us that choice.

We are not His highschool sweetheart-- We are His bride. He knows us completely-- he is not blind to our sin-- but He still wants us.

He still loves us, even when we bring nothing to the table but weak attempts at goodness. He asks us to spend eternity with Him, and He asks us to repent.

He is there for us when we fall, to pick us back up out of the dirt He hates, and to wash us clean and help us try again.

So you are not worthless, but your value is found in a God that loves you, not in all the amazing qualities that made Him fall "in love" with you. Everything will be okay, because you can repent and be in fellowship with Him, no matter your circumstances. And you can come to His cross, because, even though God hates your sin, he absolutely, completely, sacrificially LOVES you.

God is so much more than "in love" with us.

Friday, October 28, 2016

On not being a New York TImes Best Seller by my Second Draft

I am a writer.

I am not Neal Shusterman. Or C.S. Lewis. Or even Orson Scott Card. I am not Maggie Steifvater, and I am not Catherine Fisher.

I am Morgan Margerison, aspiring author, chronic self-doubter, hopeful God-lover, talkative Mental health advocater, Out-there aunt of the friend group (because I'm too irresponsible to be mom).

And my writing reflects that. I don't have my narrative flow down pat. My descriptions occasionally make zero sense. My plots still look messy. And, sometimes, when I look at all the things I have to fix, and all the things my favorite writers already have mastered, I get a little sinking feeling inside.

And I have a feeling, if you write, you probably know exactly what that feels like.

Although it's reasonable to be a bit daunted by the journey ahead of me, I think I (and the rest of us writers) need to stop expecting my next draft to be publish-worthy.

Because, let's be honest, I haven't always been serious about writing. I started a book when I was nine. My concept of a book was a long-ish short story involving (essentially) the snake from harry potter (why??), gum, and a bit of Alice in wonderland. With drawings.
Didn't finish.
I wrote stories for school and classes and loved doing that, but I didn't do it a whole lot.
Picked it up again when I was fifteen and sick of trying free amazon books that had too much kissing in them. So I decided to write a kiss-free sci-fi novel. I did finish that, actually, but we don't talk about that mess. (Maybe I'll start over with it, someday XD)

And about two years ago, with Wayward, I got really, really serious. Because I finally realized what writing meant to me.

But that means I've only been seriously writing for about two years, and yet I expect my work to be on par with people who have written for 10, or 15, or their WHOLE LIVES.
And it's not.
It's just not.

And that's okay, for two reasons.

1. I am not writing to be my favorite author.

I might look at the Unwind series and think "wow, I want to be that." And I could sit at my desk, and study it for hours, and figure out how Shusterman does that third-person-present thing right, and use his themes, and mimic his voice. But it wouldn't be me.

While reading another author's writing teaches me a lot about what I want to see in my books, and how to write better, it shouldn't be my goal to write just like any one author. It should be my goal to be the writer God wants me to be. Not that there's anything wrong with learning from other writers and incorporating their methods into your learning process--I've learned a lot about transitions and emotions and plot by reading Neal Shusterman, actually. It's just that the goal should be to learn from them, not become them, and to be happy when my voice emerges differently.

2. I'm not done yet.

I want my writing to be spotless, but that's just not how it works.

That's where the hard work comes in. That's where I sit down and, instead of focusing on where I'm not--focus on where I could be. Reading should inspire me to reach new levels of narrative flow, to master transitions, to explore new ideas. It shouldn't be upsetting. As writers, we should be able to recognize someone else's skills and look for ways to develop our own, maybe even by studying what the author did right and comparing our work. We should look for constructive criticism wherever we can get it, and then we should practice (and edit) until we like what we see.

All of those authors I love had a beginning, and their first book--at least, their first draft, was probably pretty terrible. But, over time, with lots of practice, they created beautiful worlds, learned how to use their words in just the right ways, and developed characters that jump off the page.

And I'm not there yet. But one day, I could be. So I'm going to keep working. I'm going to write more drafts.
I hope you will do the same.

Because writing isn't about becoming another author. It's not about being the next best seller. It's not about creating perfection. It's not about throwing a book out into the world that looks just like the ones we love.

Writing is having a passion. Writing is having a voice. Writing is patience, and teach-ability, and tenacity.

And it's worth all the time it takes to get there.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Love of a Holy God

“Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not of the mouth of the LORD. They say still unto them that despise me, The LORD hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you.” Jeremiah 23:16-17

Jeremiah strikes fear--and probably the healthy kind--into my heart. This book is full of descriptions of Israel that can so easily apply to the condition of our culture in the United States, especially the Christian subset.

Today, I think we have a better grasp than ever on the concept that God is love. He doesn’t just love us-- He is the very embodiment, the definition of love. Love is integral to everything that He does. This, in itself, is wonderful.

But goodness, I think we may have taken it too far.

We’ve applied our modern concept of love to who God is, and it just doesn’t make the cut.

God is Holy.

God isn’t just uncomfortable with sin, but accepting of it anyway. God isn’t just embracing everyone’s choices as their own to make and perfect in themselves.

God hates sin.

He despises rebellion against Him and the order He created.

He loves us, but a love for the sinner and a hate for the sin are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they go hand in hand. You would hate the drugs that destroyed your friend’s life, you would hate the drinking that caused the wreck that took the life of a loved one.

God hates sin. He hates the thing that mars the glory rightly His. He hates the thing that tears apart the creation he so dearly loves.

So why, why, why do we insist on embracing it?

Like the prophets in Jeremiah, we like to say what people want to hear. I know I’m guilty of it, at least. I want my friends to love God. I want them to see God’s love for them. I want them to be able to move past guilt and shame and bask in the loving, open arms God has for them. I want them to know He calls them as they are, broken and sinful, to find redemption in Him.

I believe these are Biblical concepts.

I don’t want them to feel like they need to fix themselves before they come to God, because it’s that very train of thought that ensnares me so often.

But, in an effort to effectively communicate this, I-- and many other Christians-- overcompensate. Instead of preaching a love that offers an opportunity to turn from sin and allow God to radically change our lives, we preach a “love” that says we can have peace without a change of heart, that God isn’t angry with us (AKA: God accepts our sin), and that we are fine just the way we are.

We aren’t fine.

In the words of Dr. George Calhoun: God loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to leave you that way.” [source]

God offers His contentment and peace and love to everyone. But truly accepting that means seeing our sin, seeing our brokenness, and handing that to God. Repentance is laying ourselves at God’s feet, acknowledging that we are helplessly sinful, and agreeing with him that our sin, which separates us from Him and from the benefits of His love, is ugly.

And we submit ourselves to God.

That is when peace begins, and that peace continues as God begins to wreck our lives and rebuild them into something truly beautiful.

So please, let’s stop telling each other that God’s love means we’re okay in our sin. Let’s stop jumping to tell each other we have peace with God-- and start encouraging each other in the peace that comes from submission. Let’s share the love of a God who wants to bring us out of our sin and carry us onward. Let’s share the love of a God who wants us to be in fellowship with him, who is willing to take us as we are-- but not willing to leave us as we are.

"Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the LORD our God....truly in the LORD our God is the salvation of Israel." Jer. 3:22

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Stop Waiting for the "Real World"

“Just wait till you get out there in the real world….’

As a college student, I've heard this phrase over, and over, and over again. Sometimes it ends with “...this will seem like nothing,” or “...then you'll understand,” or “...then you'll see.”

Today, I’m going to throw something else out there for my buddies who are also in those precious stages of life before college graduation.

Dear friend, please don't wait for the real world.

Please don't wait for it, because you're living in it, now.

Look around you. Look at the place where you live, the school you go to, the church you attend. You are surrounded by opportunities to impact the world around you. You are surrounded by living, breathing human beings. And even if you aren't surrounded, you must have access to the internet, or you wouldn't be reading this. All those things connect you with information, opportunity, and humanity. How can anyone say this isn't a valid part of reality? Sure, it’s not what the rest of your life will look like. Sure, you have a lot of things being given to you that you will have to fight for in your future. Don't deny that your life will look a lot different after graduation.

Just don't waste the very real world you are in right now.

Friend, you have the opportunity to grow and develop as a person. That does not change when you graduate. It just changes form. Don't wait to start becoming who you should be.

Friend, you have a lifetime of learning ahead of you, if you'll choose to learn from experience when you leave books behind. But you don’t have to wait for those experiences to hit you like a wall of bricks. Go after learning: inside and outside the classroom.

Friend, you have every capacity to make a difference in the lives of this around you, whether or not you have a 9-to-5 job. In fact, the freedom you have now, as the world gives you a bit more leeway than it will later, gives you the opportunity to do things you might never have again.

Friend, just because you have the option of being noncommittal and disconnected does not mean you have to be. And, for the record, that option doesn’t go away. Choose the right one, starting now.

Your life is no less valid because you have the luxury of a summer vacation.
Your life is just as legitimate, your experiences as meaningful, as anyone “out there.”

Please stop living these years just  waiting for the future. Your life begins at birth, not graduation. The choices you make now are key to living with meaning. Take smart risks. Make stupid jokes. Show love. Speak the Gospel.

You don't have to wait until you've met someone else's expectations of realistic experience to start engaging the very real part if the world you are living in now.

Now, don't get me wrong. As college students, most of us don’t really understand our taxes, or support families, or know exactly what it's like to live on our own. We have so much to learn, and the people that say “just wait for the real world,” are probably just trying to communicate to us (because we're often rebellious know-it-all’s who don’t know as much as we think we do) that we have a long road ahead.

So when you are presented with that statement, take the opportunity to learn. Ask them questions. Apply their answers to your life. Respect those with more experience than you. Honor them. Be humble. You know what? They've had more time than you. Chances are, they're smarter than you in many ways.

But if you start to feel like your life right now is worth less than theirs is because you are in a phase of life where you are preparing for the future, then you are missing what it means to experience the real world.

Embrace every single moment you've been given, especially the one you're in.
Because if you keep waiting for reality to sink in, it never will. God put you where you are for a reason.  Find that, and go after it with everything you are. Most of all, use your time to pursue Him above all. Whatever you do, don't sit around waiting to engage your world.