Taking Risks to Write

It’s just that when we use risk at the most optimum level in our writing, it filters into all else. Then the real world seems like child’s play. Embrace risk. Eat your meals with it, takes walks with risk, take risk to bed. It will become your greatest friend and ally.

— Susan Tepper[1]

s-BLANK-PAGE-large300Today, I sent my finished manuscript, Running Away: The Memoir of a Bishop’s Son, to my Coordinator, at Westbow Publishers. She was excited that I had finally finished my book, and looks forward to the final process of publication. No one is more excited than me, however. I love writing, but I had no idea of the hours, weeks, days, and months of writing, rewriting, and editing it would take to write a small book of nearly 200,000 words.

Tristine Rainer said, “All writes have times when they feel afraid, when the writing stops or becomes dull and merely informational, when they want to give up.”[2] I spent hours and days alone listening to my inner voice trying to retell the story of my life. There were many times I got frustrated with myself when I couldn’t unlock the door to the past or recall certain events. I dreaded the proverbial writers block, sitting at my computer staring at a blank page on the screen. I wondered whether or not I had anything to write about.

Bestselling author, Diane Setterfield, said, “You have to relax, write what you write. It sounds easy but it’s really, really hard. One of the things it took me longest to learn was to trust the writing process.”[3] I would certainly agree with Ms. Setterfield about “trusting the writing process.” After my sister, Deane, passed away in 2010, I felt completely lost and decided to put my pen down for awhile. There was nothing left for me to say, wanted to say, or wanted to write about. I didn’t trust the writing process to be faithful in telling my story. My sister was my motivation and she made me feel I could do anything.

June 7, 2012, on what would have been my sister’s sixty-fifth birthday, I began to trust the writing process again. I had gone to place flowers onDeane King Deane’s burial niche at the Chapel of the Chimes, when I felt awakened by her memory instructing me to finish writing my personal memoir. Two years have now past since that awakening, and four years (November 29, 2010) since my sister’s untimely death. I miss her and I still wonder why God took her from my life. In a strange twist, her memory has been a kind of therapy for me. Her struggle in life has been my strength and encouragement to face my own challenges. Rainer states, “For although therapy is seen as a healing science and autobiography as a literary form, there have always been intimate links between psychotherapy and the restorative powers of personal narrative.”[4]

The Chapel of the Chimes is a quiet place that feels more like a library than a building where the remains of one’s loved ones are kept. A water fountain resembling a waterfall sits in the vestibule when you enter the building. There’s something about the sound of running water that calms the spirit. David wrote in Psalm 42:7, “Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls.” Classical music softly plays in the background to offer visitors a sense of tranquility and respite. Comfortable chairs and benches are intentionally place throughout so guests can sit and meditate if they wish. Family members come to visit deceased relatives or friends or both—young and old—who can no longer be distinguished by race, class, or gender. Eyes roam upon row and row of names embossed on small bronze, gold, or silver plates—depending on how much a person or family is willing to spend—to help identify their loved one’s resting place.

Okay, I know this is beginning to sound a little weird, but I promise there is a point somewhere.  Surely there are other places one can find for rest, meditation, and contemplation. Actually, I like going to the columbarium—not out of some delusional or morbid search for spiritual contact with the deceased—but to spend time for personal reflection. While sitting quietly in a chair near the place where my sister’s urn is kept, I thought about the many times we had conversations about family and church. Those conversations prompted my memory of our family’s past, and the discussions she and I had about many unanswered questions concerning our parents; the personal experiences we went through as children living at home; and the emotional challenges we shared growing up as pastor’s children.

My siblings and I definitely didn’t  have a life of privilege because our dad was the pastor (as some might tend to think). On the contrary, our lives were filled with unrelenting tests and trials of resentments and misunderstandings. That is not to say that other families did not experienced hardships, trials, and other unfortunate circumstances of survival; nor does it mean our family was any different or better because of what we went through. I cannot speak for others’ experiences; I can only speak from my own.

We all have a story to tell, and the only thing death cannot destroy is memory. The reason why I wrote my memoir was to preserve from forgetfulness those I have loved, specifically my father, who is the impetus behind my desire to write a book.  Brent Curtis and John Eldredge said, “Life is not a list of propositions, it is a series of dramatic scenes.”[5] I’m sure it may be easy for some to create fictional stories about his or her life, and then claim the events to be true. It has been done by many writers past and present; however, this is not one of those stories.

Then there is the issue of self-discovery and the risks taken when writing a personal memoir. Readers may see a side of you that they were completely unaware existed. Family members who claim they know you better than anyone else are surprised to discover they didn’t know you as well as they thought they did. Personal issues you may have kept secret for years now reveal your true self. Some may not like or appreciate your truth. “I didn’t know that about him or her,” is the response from family and friends who inquire about your past life once kept private.

Writing coach, Lauren Sapala, says,

We avoid emotional risk in our writing for the same reasons that we avoid it in real life. We don’t want to be judged. We don’t want to make a mistake, or our words be misconstrued by others. We don’t want to write something that we’ll regret later. But all that stuff is going to happen anyway, no matter what we do.[6]

I know my book will not make some members of my family happy nor will the church denomination appreciate my view or opinion about the way I felt my father was treated while he was alive. I honestly didn’t write my memoir for my family or the church; I wrote my memoir for me—and for my beloved sister, Deane. As I continued the writing process I had in mind those who asked me over many years to share my story. My purpose was to convey my relationship with my father and the events in the past that formed that relationship.

Some will not understand why I needed to write about my life and experiences at all. To that group of critics I can only say, I was not writing for them, or for their opinion, or validation. The beauty of writing and becoming a writer is that I am not limited by or to a narrow audience who may only have a one dimensional view of life. I take joy in being surrounded by people of diverse views, experiences, and opinions; but herein laid another danger: there will always be those readers who presuppose they know what I meant or said without actually knowing what I meant or said. They attempt to read into my experience something that is not there. But that again is the risk of writing and sharing one’s feelings, emotions, and experiences.

One of the beauties of growing intellectually and spiritually is now I don’t spend a lot of time worrying or thinking too much about what people say or think of me. None of us can change another person’s opinions or feelings, or the way a person may think or feel about you or me. People often make false (lie) and untrue statements in order to malign a person’s character. I often tell members of my congregation, don’t waste your time chasing a lie. I can, however, do my best to following the words of Jesus, and the Kingdom Principles he gave us to live by:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45).

Maybe it’s all a sign of aging or maturity? It is a fact that the years in front of me are now much shorter than those behind me.  I’ve come to realize that life cannot be summed up in slogans, quotes, and sayings of the day. They make us feel good for the moment, but the reality is the journey is hard sometimes—and I do get tired. Life is complex, and there are no easy answers to many of life’s difficult question. I finally have learned to enjoy the seasons of days God has given me, and I rest in knowing I’ve taking a few risks along the way.


[1] Susan Tepper. “The Risk-Taking Writer Is the Successful Writer.”  (n.d.) Web. The Review Review. Retrieved from: http://www.thereviewreview.net/publishing-tips/risk-taking-writer-successful-writer/ . November 19 2014.

[2] Tristine Rainer. Your Life as Story. (New York: Tarcher/Putnam Publishers, 1997), p. 184.

[3] Diane Setterfield. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved November 18, 2014, from BrainyQuote.com. Web site: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/d/dianesette633381.html/.

[4] Rainer, Your Life as Story, p. 14.

[5] Brent Curtis and John Eldredge. The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997), p.39.

[6] Lauren Sapala. “Taking Emotional Risk in Your Writing.” (n.d.) Blog. Lauren Sapala. Retrieved from: http://laurensapala.com/?p=1319/ . November 19 2014.

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Filed under African American, African American Family, Memoir, Personal Reflections, Uncategorized

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