Giving up

Giving up is one of the hardest things we can ever do. I have given up many times, and I’m still here because I knew when it was a losing battle.

Giving up feels like we’ve lost, like we’re not trying hard enough. “Just a little more, and maybe, just maybe, there’ll be breakthrough,” is a familiar thought that many of us have when we just don’t want to give up. But how long are we going to “kick against the goads” (Acts 9:5).

I had a job where I just fought so hard to keep that it was stressing me out. I was kicking against the goads when everything I did to try to keep the job made me feel like a failure. Nothing I did was working. And God wasn’t answering me the way I thought He should.

Finally, I just gave up and resigned instead of trying. And it was the best thing I had ever done. If I hadn’t had that experience, I wouldn’t have gotten to this stage where I know who I am and what I’m good at.

As I look back, I can see the changes that happened to me as I went from contract to contract, learning how things are done in different places. And the experience I have gained through the pain has shaped me and my writing style.

It is the same with writing. Years ago, I had an idea of a novel about a strong-willed woman. I started it but got stuck. I stopped struggling with it and shelved it. A few years ago, I picked it up and reworked the surrounds and circumstances and now it’s nearing completion. But again, I’ve hit a snag and started something else while I let it stew.

And that’s the beauty of shelving things and moving on to another. The flavours develop, we see the issues we faced earlier and have better ideas when we come back to it.

Even Jesus told his disciples to move on when move on in Matt 10. There are so much more that we need to do. Don’t waste your time when God is showing you the time isn’t right.

Stories are always better if you know when to give up and move on to bigger and better things. And when you’re ready, God will let you revisit the old story and I promise you, you will see it with new eyes.

Make sense, make history

Some people value the New Testament over the Old Testament. Some, the other way round. I personally like reading parts of the Old over the New because of their compelling stories. The epic adventures of King David, the king who was once a lowly shepherd, for example, is one of my favourites.

But that doesn’t mean I value one over the other. In fact, one is not complete without the other. The Old Testament informs the New, just as the New Testament is built on the old.

The Old Testament gives us the settings in which the New Testament was revealed to all mankind. It sets the scene, gives us context to understand the New Testament and completes the picture for us.

We learn so much from history. What happened yesterday guides us today. We learn a lot from the lessons learnt throughout history. We see the mistakes of our forefathers and a close study of the past will show how those events have shaped us and our society today.

As writers, we too need to provide context for our readers to set the scenes in their heads. They need to know what is happening, why it is happening, to have a proper context to your stories. If we took out the context, we cannot understand the the story.

So, the writing advice for this week is, help your readers make sense of the story by making up some history to put things in context for your readers.

Connect with your audience

I recently had a terrible day when everything felt down and depressing. There was nothing wrong with the world around me. I just felt down, like nothing mattered. The sun was shining, but it couldn’t pierce the darkness that settled upon my soul.

I don’t know why, but I was drawn to read Ecclesiastes, where nothing seemed to matter. I had always struggled with that book because it always seemed so downright depressing, where everything seems to be “meaningless”.

But who would have thunk it, I saw many injustice described in Ecclesiastes that are around in our society, and it felt good just knowing that we’re not the only society seeing this happening. You hear that? We’re not alone. And that these things are meaningless. Don’t sweat it. There’s more important stuff to think about and more interesting things to do than worry and be depressed about.

What’s important here as a writer is this. It connected with me. It spoke to me. It encouraged me and lifted my spirit. I felt refreshed and ready to take on the world after reading Ecclesiastes. And our writing should speak. It should help others connect to the world around them. Tell them ‘yes, we’ve felt that way before’, ‘you’re not alone’, or others have gone this way before because, who knows who will pick up your book and need a quick pick me up one day.

So, when you’re writing, remember to try connecting with your readers. And do try reading the various books of the Bible when you’re I certain moods. I think my next moody read should be the Song of Songs…

Don’t reveal everything

Ever notice how the Bible stories are laid out? How we aren’t given all the details  and have to fill in some other gaps with our imagination? Interesting, isn’t it, considering I remember being taught to add more details into my stories when I was younger.

My belief is I was taught wrongly as a child when it comes to writing. As storytellers, our focus should be on the narrative and events, not the minute details of everything around. John’s recollection of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (Jh 8:3-11) has a lot missing from it when compared to what I was taught. What did Jesus write in the dirt? Where’s the man who she was with? Was she allowed to clothe herself before being dragged out? And if not, did she have a sheet to cover up with?

Here’s the whole point. What is important is not the details that will distract from the story. The important thing is that the woman was condemned by others who were also guilty in the eyes of God. They knew that they were guilty themselves, but chose not to see it until Jesus said (in Dave’s not so loving paraphrase), “she is guilty, but so are all of you.”

So when we write, remember what is important, and what is not. And you will be a better writer.

Having God without God

The book of Esther is a good read. It is one of my favourites, especially since it is one of the easy to read short stories. It has one really interesting feature that makes it stand out to me – it doesn’t mention God.

I want to point out that God was working in the midst of Esther’s story and although it doesn’t specifically mention God, we can see His hand at work. God works in our midst, even when we don’t see it or ask for His help or guidance.

God works behind the scenes in a lot of lives, even when we want Him at the forefront. We usually can’t see it when we’re going through the midst of our issues. It is amazing to see how things work out when we look back.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28 (NKJV)

My first published story, The Lost Animals, talks about how God works in our lives. He gives us help when we need it from any aspect that we do not expect. And it shows how people do not have to have all the answers (See 1 Cor 12:4-7).

I hope that if you want to write about story for His glory, I hope you do not feel compelled to squeeze God into a story. God doesn’t need us to fit Him into a story when it won’t add to the story. We bring Him more honour with a good coherent story without God, than an incoherent story with God squeezed in there somehow.