Once upon a time there were three bears. They lived in a house in the woods. One day they went for a walk and Goldilocks found their house. She ate their porridge and went to sleep in their bed. When they came back they were so angry they gobbled her up.
So reads the earliest remaining manuscript written in my hand (as far as I know). Who knows whether it was copied out or whether my five-year-old mind created it (as would be suggested by the use of ‘gobbled’) but there it is. A story.
By nine, things had progressed to the (sadly lost) saga of Jack the Octopus. It was a story told to make my little brother go to sleep when we were sharing a room one summer. Jack the Octopus leaves home to find his own way in life and becomes friends with Shannon the Shark. The wise, ancient squid sends them on an adventure to save the Sea Prince from an evil witch who has robbed him of his memory, turned him into a human being, and convinced him to marry her so that she can be Queen of the Sea. I know right?
By fifteen I had a whole novel planned (including detailed chapter breakdowns) about a Scottish missionary to the Cheyenne. At sixteen I began to blog regularly and wrote a significant chunk of a novel about an Indonesian boy and had the rest planned in detail. I should really finish it but I’m two thirds of the way through a fantasy epic which keeps surprising me as it develops despite the fact that I’m supposed to be the writer.
A lot of people don’t know that I write. They just know that I’m good at essays and I have a blog. Most of them have never read either which suits me just fine. It’s funny though, when the subject of blogs comes up, people often ask me why I do it.
Because I love to write.
But why do you write?
I write because I love to read.
My parents read me poetry. They read me stories. They gave us words to play with where other children got wooden blocks.
One of my warmest memories is of collecting my blanket and a book and climbing onto mum and dad’s bed for a bedtime story. We had stories right up until we were nine and ten years old by the way because I was eight when Eragon came out and we read the first two together.
We were allowed three poems, one short story, or a chapter of a book. It began with Slinky Malinky, The Sad Clown, Joe’s Cafe, the Blue Balloon, Shhh. . . Then it was the Twits, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Mossflower, Eragon, the Five Children and It, The Narnia Series. Danny the Champion of the World was always one of my favourites. They were all complete with silly voices and read properly, not just in monotone.
Hearing my parents read taught me how to read for myself and reading either together or alone painted a world with words, another world within this one. It changed the way I saw and understood the world.
To this day, when people see my happiness in the midst of darkness, they whisper among themselves and ask
Did no one ever tell you how many monsters this world holds?
I smile and let the sparks dance on my fingertips.
Yes, I reply, But they told me there were heroes.
I often read to escape but in those worlds I learned how to face my problems. I learned from my heroes and took heart from them too.
That is why I write. Because I understand the power of story to rescue, to heal, to give courage. More than ever, in fiction and nonfiction alike, we need to be reminded that in this world overwhelmed with monsters that there are heroes too.
It all seems rather romantic and idealistic doesn’t it? But let me translate that into the real world for you, now that I am grown up on the outside.
In a world where our faith is mocked, we can retreat to find strength in the words of Bunyan who, though he languished in jail for many years, remained faithful. In a world where professing believers are trying to prove the Bible unreliable so they might deny its Truth, recall Polycarp’s story. At eighty-six he was arrested and called upon to deny God but answered them “Eighty-six years have I have served him, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” and was burned to death. In a world full of abortion, war, gender confusion, terrorism, violence, and fear, we may go to the writings of Paul who, having been beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, arrested, imprisoned, (2 Corinthians 11.23-31) still finds the strength to help us buckle on our armour for the fight (Ephesians 6.10-18). In a world where we can feel so very small and helpless, Mordecai reminds us all that God put us here for such a time as this (Esther 4.14).
I write because I know that people need to remember.
I write because I can.
I was born into a family who cared for me, a family who raised me to be thoughtful and critical in the good sense. We were always encouraged to explore, to ask questions, and to work out the answers for ourselves as much as possible.
God put me in a bright family and gave me a sharp mind (mostly). He also gave me the privilege of being born into a time and place where I had the opportunity to go to school.
I write because I can, because I don’t count education as a human right but as a human privilege. Coupled with a love for words and an understanding of their power (they have both made me and destroyed me), it would be irresponsible stewardship of my gifts if I didn’t write. It’s not just in the sense of being able to arrange twenty-six letters on a page but also in the sense that I know how to form the words to cut and heal as the need arises. I only pray that with age comes wisdom in that area.
I write because I must.
It is that simple and that inexplicable. Those who do not feel the burning need may not understand but that’s alright.
I am, in truth, compelled to write. I am not a loud or even eloquent person and, to be honest, I don’t have a whole lot to say. But when I write, I am myself because it feels like it is just you and I having a conversation and I needn’t worry about others overhearing (I have had my head bitten off before). And the lovely thing about writing and reading is that you can do it in your own time. You can take your time before responding. If I’m honest, I rarely (if ever) re-draft and I know that’s a bad habit but I don’t redraft when I speak so I don’t feel the need when I write.
Polished words can be so formal. I don’t want to write in marble, I want to write on people’s heart, little inky fingerprints that say don’t be afraid, there are many monsters and villains in the world but there is a King and a champion who rose from among us and calls us to stand with him and his name is Jesus. I am compelled to tell the story again and again.
This will seem sentimental to some. They’ll see it as wishy-washy and vague and touchy-feely, all this talk of heroes and fairy tales. Any minute now she’ll bring in Aslan as an illustration to show how Sauron can be beaten so that we, like Buttercup and Westley, can have our happy endings.
All I want to say is that all of our favourite stories, all the best writing whether fictional or not, have one thing in common. Whether they make us laugh, make us cry, lift us up or leave us hanging, they all lift our souls because they have this in common:
They give us hope.
It is the ultimate narrative. Eden and the Fall ends in the promise of hope. Noah is a story of hope. Moses is threaded through with redemptive hope. The Psalms echo with it. Job clings to it. Ruth will not abandon it. The prophets always return to it.
Jesus fulfils it.
The reason we need stories is because we need hope. I write because I am as hungry as anyone for that hope. I write because I have discovered that hope. I write to point you to him.